If anyone should be worried about missed penalty kicks from the Lions it is skills coach Neil Jenkins.
The tourists paid dearly for missed shots at goal on Tuesday as they lost to the Highlanders by a point in Dunedin, replacement fly-half Owen Farrell and long-range kicker Elliot Daly each missing second-half chances to compound the team’s overall error and penalty count as they blew a 22-13 lead to the Super Rugby outfit.
Yet Welsh points-scoring legend Jenkins, the Lions kicking coach on each of the last three tours, is happy with the arsenal at the Lions’ disposal ahead of the Test series with the All Blacks, starting a week on Saturday.
Of more concern is when his kickers do not get rewarded for accurate goal-kicking, as was the case when Farrell thought he had secured three points during the win over the Crusaders only to have it ruled out by referee Mathieu Raynal and his touch judges.
However, Jenkins is delighted with the array of kicking talent he is working with in New Zealand, from his three fly-halves Farrell, Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar as well as scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, utility back Daly and full-back Leigh Halfpenny, his jewel in the crown four years in the series win over Australia.
“It depends on who’s in the team firstly, but yeah, I think across the board we’re pretty strong in that respect,” Jenkins said. “Obviously there was a couple (Tuesday) night but then they were pretty tough kicks. We’ve got Owen, Leigh, Johnny, Dan and Greig, and obviously Elliot as the long-ranger as well. It’s not going to be easy but selection is firstly more important with who’s playing, and then kicker selection comes from that.
“I don’t think it’ll be just mine (the job of choosing a kicker), it’ll be between us.... whoever we feel, if there is more than one playing in the team, someone’s probably going to be disappointed.”
Delivering the bad news is not something Jenkins relishes. In 2013 it was Sexton, the starting fly-half, who was overlooked in favour of Halfpenny and the coach recalled: “It’s not an easy conversation. We certainly had that four years ago but that’s life and I like to think he fronted up four years ago and done the job. Leigh had a pretty good series so I have no doubt that whoever kicks this series will be very strong. So we’ll have a very good kicker.”
Despite his Tuesday miss, Farrell is another of the Lions’ world-class kicking options, his four successful penalties sealing victory over the Crusaders last Saturday. His 12 points should have been 15 but for Raynal, who said the kick was missed and then denied Farrell’s request for a TMO check.
“It was over,” Jenkins said. “It was. We were in behind it and it was over. Look, it’s incredibly hard to be a referee and a linesman. If you’re standing underneath the posts you can’t tell me if that’s gone over or if it’s just crept in or not. It’s quite difficult to see if you’re standing quite literally [looking straight up], so you know, the ref has to take control there as well and if he’s unsure then maybe you do go to the TMO. But both me and Owen felt just it crept in.”
Johnny Sexton was heard on the ref mic later in game asking ‘why didn’t the TMO check” Farrell’s kick, and Jenkins said: “We did ask him and he didn’t want to know.
“I’ve had this scenario with Wales in the World Cup in 2011 against South Africa in Wellington. It was a similar type kick on half with James Hook. As far as we were concerned the kick went over. Gats asked me at half-time, I think Wayne (Barnes) was reffing that day, and as we were coming in and Gats was talking to me, Francois Steyn had come off and he said Neil,the kick was over’. So I said ‘Gats, there you are, Frans was standing behind the posts saying it was clearly over’ and this is half-time in a massive World Cup game.
“At the end of the day we lost by a point so that kick mattered.
“It’s one of those things, we’ve got to take it on the chin.
“I like the tall rugby posts, the really tall ones, certainly in the High Veldt, can they bring those back? I’m joking but it is what it is and it’s happened, we’ve just got to get on with it.”
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