Kicking coach Van der Merwe mentors players on key area for Super Rugby season
There are fine margins between winning and losing and it is often a difficult last-minute shot at posts from the touchline that ultimately decides the between victory or difference defeat.
Southern Kings kicking coach Henning van der Merwe has the responsibility of ensuring that his kickers have their radar finely tuned in Super Rugby this year.
“Kicking plays a huge role within the team and most of the time it is the difference between winning and losing.”
Van der Merwe said confidence, along with technique, was the most vital attribute a kicker could have in his arsenal.
“A good technique always gives you confidence. If am standing over the kick without confidence, most of the times I will miss the kick.
“You must have a confident kicker in the team. Without a kicker with confidence you won’t be able to drive the team.
“The kickers need to know that we trust them even when their confidence is down.
“If they have missed five kicks in a game, or two out of seven, they need to know we back them in every game. If you have a proper kicking system in place that will help your defensive and attacking game.
“The main focus for us is on the scrumhalf, flyhalf and fullback because they are the main role-players among the kickers,” he said.
This year the Kings will not be playing against New Zealand-based teams in Super Rugby and that is a relief for Van der Merwe, who holds their kicking game in high esteem.
“New Zealand set a high standard for the rest of the world and they kick more out of hand than South African teams,” Van der Merwe said.
“The reason they stand out is because their kickers are more effective than ours. We must examine our kicking out of hand because there are many aimless kicks.
“At the Kings, we practise kicking under pressure and concentrate on the fundamentals and decision making. The players have a good attitude and they want to learn. That is what is what I like about this team.
“You work nicely with players if they are prepared to learn. The coaches must also adapt to the players. If they do well on the field then so can we. It is a case of give and take,” he said.
Van der Merwe said young flyhalf Garrick Mattheus was one of the new talents in the Kings team.
“Garrick is an upcoming young player and we are excited about him and he has talent. If we work hard with him, and get certain things in place, then I think he has a long future in rugby.”
One of the problems faced by kickers can be windy conditions and Van der Merwe likes to takes the players into the protected bowl of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
“In the Bay you have the wind, but successful teams know how to adapt. We work closely with the operators of the stadium and they accommodate us. Then we have a chance to kick inside the stadium.”
Most of the Kings’ training takes place on the unprotected B Field at the stadium.
“If we can’t get into the stadium we go into the nets indoors and we focus on some key fundamentals we are working on.”
Van der Merwe said the game had evolved to the extent where not only the flyhalf, scrumhalf and fullback needed to be accomplished kickers. “Your wings and centres also give you so many options to kick.
“Everyone must be able to kick,” he said. “Every kick in every game is vital. You can miss all your kicks in a game, but then you get one kick you must get over. “It is about who can handle the pressure best and that is what I emphasise in training.
“I try to get the guys to kick well under pressure. My training is planned so that they learn to handle those pressure situations and concentrate,” he said.
Van der Merwe joined the Kings from the Leopards Rugby Union, where he was kicking coach for their senior and junior teams.
He was also kicking coach for the North West University’s Potchefstroom campus, where he trained, among others, the NWU Pukke Varsity Cup team.
He has also served as a kicking consultant for Boland.
Regarding tactical kicking, Van der Merwe said part of the solution was to get rid of bad habits.
“It is about a process and getting rid of bad habits. A habit replaces a habit. We are trying to get a whole process in place.
The coach said it was vital that a coach backed his players – even if they were having an off day.
“It often happens in a game that the first kick you have prepared so hard for is missed. You have to adjust to that. Confidence also plays a very important role,” Van der Merwe said. “If the coach backs you, that plays a big role.
“Even the best kickers in the world sometimes miss kicks from in front of the poles and have off days.
“A person must accept that a kicker has an off day and you must back him as far as possible.
“If you do not back him the situation will come where the kicker must win the game for you and he says the coach did not back me.
“So no matter how badly he has done, if you backed him and it comes to a situation where he must win the game, he will win it.”
Van der Merwe said when he first arrived in Port Elizabeth from the Leopards, one of the requirements was that the Kings kickers were able to gain more distance.
“Kicking is a process and the result is the outcome of a process. Often people in the stands only see the result. They forget there is a process on the go. The thing is to get that process consistent.
“Sometimes players can be inconsistent with the results, because they are inconsistent with the fundamentals. It takes time.”
Why did Van der Merwe decide to specialise in the art of kicking when there are so many other aspects to the game?
“This has been my love since my school days. In Standard 8 I helped the matrics to kick at school. I used to kick for three hours a day. I never played provincially, or at a high level, but it is my love. “
Van der Merwe’s advice to aspiring young kickers is: “Work ethic is vital. Talent only brings you so far.
“If you are a hard worker with the right fundamentals in place you can make it”.