Jenkins: Boots will do talking in shoot-out

Penalty-taking decided the first Test in favour of the British & Irish Lions and the art of bisecting the posts will again be massively influential in Saturday’s second encounter with Australia, believes Lions legend Neil Jenkins.

The former Wales fly-half, who kicked the 1997 Lions to a series victory over South Africa, is the 2013 tourists’ kicking coach and presiding over some remarkably consistent place-kicking from Leigh Halfpenny and Owen Farrell, who have sent over 27 from 29 kicks and 18 from 19 respectively on tour so far.

Halfpenny was successful with five of his six kicks off the tee last Saturday in Brisbane, contributing 13 points to the Lions’ 23-21 first Test win, while the Wallabies made only four of their nine attempts at goal by James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale, whose two penalty misses in the final minutes let Warren Gatland’s side off the hook.

As Jenkins sees it, there will be no let up in Melbourne’s Docklands on Saturday under the closed roof of the Etihad Stadium with match day referee Craig Joubert coming into the game with a reputation for recording high penalty counts.

“It’s generally goal-kicking that wins or loses Test matches. We’ve seen already with the way things went last Saturday the importance of your kickers,” Jenkins said.

“Kicking is going to be huge. I certainly think it is going to be a very good game of rugby on Saturday. I think they will look to take us on ball in hand. I think it will be an unbelievable game. It’s going to come down to taking your opportunities and kicking, any chance that comes on offer you are going to need to take. Goal-kicking will be huge.”

In starting 24-year-old full-back Halfpenny, this season’s RBS Player of the Championship in the 2013 Six Nations and a protege of Jenkins’ since joining the Cardiff Blues academy, the Lions are fully confident they have a kicker who is made of the right stuff to take those opportunities.

“Most of the kickers have got very good temperaments, and the guys here on the Lions tour have incredible temperaments,” Jenkins said. “They are happy to rock up irrelevant of the issues surrounding them — it might be a kick to win the game, the crowd, the amount of people watching on TV — they seem to get into that zone.

“Temperament-wise, we are very lucky. Leigh has always wanted to be a kicker, and once he started for the Blues he was knocking on the door consistently.

“You are trying to score the points for the team, and you have got to put the work in to do that. You will have days when things don’t go right, that is understandable. You can’t get out of bed every day and everything goes well. But I believe if you put the work in, you work hard throughout the week, you put yourself in a good place.”

Such has been Halfpenny’s form with the boot that Ireland’s regular kicker and Lions starting fly-half Jonny Sexton has not had a sniff at the shooting duties since the opening tour game against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1, when in the heat and humidity he was successful with just two kicks from five after coming off the bench to replace Farrell.

“It’s not easy, obviously, when you have got great goal-kickers as we have, and two in the same side,” Jenkins said “Jonny and Owen had played in Hong Kong, and we wanted to get Leigh up and running as well.

“For that game [against Western Force in Perth], it was his first game of the tour, we wanted to try and get everyone involved as soon as possible, so that was more the decision at the time.

“The way he kicked that night — 11 out of 11 — probably propelled him in front of the other guys. But again, it’s small margins, and these boys are outstanding kickers.

“Jonny was disappointed, and I didn’t expect anything different, but he has responded as we would expect, practising very hard and very well. I feel for Jonny a bit. He had a couple of misses in Hong Kong but his practice has been incredible so far.”

With both Sexton and Halfpenny set to start in Melbourne on Saturday and Farrell as back-up fly-half, the Lions could not be better placed in terms of place-kicking options, while the starting out-half’s tactical kicking on this tour and in the opening Test has been immaculate.

That will need to continue this weekend as the Lions bid for a victory that would secure a first series win since Jenkins celebrated a 2-1 success over the Springboks 17 years ago.

“A lot of the guys playing here have achieved an awful lot of things,” Jenkins reflected. “Brian [O’Driscoll] has won 130-odd caps, hasn’t won a Lions series. Any Lions tour you go on you want to win every game you possibly can, but the reality is you get remembered and judged on your Test performances.

“It is a huge game for us on Saturday, I can’t put enough emphasis on it.”

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