Lealiifano reveals cause of Wallabies' Sapporo goalkicking handover

Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies playmaker Christian Lealiifano says a poke in the eye forced him to hand over the goalkicking reins against Fiji but is confident he will have his radar back for a clash with Wales.

Lealiifano revealed on Tuesday that it was blurry vision from a poke to the eye that led to him passing the goal kicking duties onto Reece Hodge, despite a one-from-three start to the match.

“Late in the game, I just got a bit of a poke in the eye and it was a bit blurry and I wasn't confident enough to put that at risk for a Test match and I backed Reece Hodge to take over from there,” he said.

“One of the big hits - I just ended up getting up and there was flickering in the eye, wasn't comfortable with what I could see, lost my peripherals a little bit.

“It settled back after the game, but lucky it didn’t affect my overall game,  just kicking when you've really got to focus on striking a target, things like that, I wasn't comfortable doing that.”

Lealiifano had a one-from-three return in the first part of the match, continuing a season of patchy goal kicking from the Wallabies, who have slotted just six of their past 15 shots at goal.

Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor are other options outside of the three who booted the ball on Saturday that have experiencing kicking, though the latter said earlier this week he was not expecting a call-up to that role.

Kicking accuracy a skill that is always critical in World Cup campaigns and will be important for Australia when they take on Wales, a team whose defence is so tight that any points opponents can get and with some of the world’s most accurate kickers in Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny.

Lealiifano said all the kickers were focusing on improving, but 

“We're all working really hard at that,” he said.

“It's going to be pretty important in these kinds of tournaments so we'll just keep chipping away, working well with (skills coach) Mick Byrne and hopefully we can keep knocking them over in games.

“I think just like any kicker just trusting your process, it's something you practise and do and I've done it for years, something you've got to do, just try and put yourself in game mode every time you practise and then execute.”

Lealiifano said he wasn’t one to obsess about any faults in his kicking form, preferring to keep a somewhat clear mind.

“I don’t like to get my mind muddled up too much, thinking about, ‘What am I doing well, what am I doing wrong, how can I fix this?’ and that's when I feel I go wrong,” he said.

“With that kind of stuff it's just about being relaxed and trying to feel as comfortable as I can when I kick and when I'm feeling pretty good, hit a couple more and then I'll stop.

“I wouldn’t try and sit there and try and correct everything in one go.”

Lealiifano was looking worse for wear after Australia’s World Cup opener against Fiji, with he and Nic White seemingly targeted heavily by the Fijian defence but the flyhalf said he didn’t have the sense they were looking for him more than any other.

“Not really, they were after all of us, anyone in a gold jersey ,that’s what it felt like,” he said.

“That's the beauty of Test footy, you've got to test yourself against whatever defences comes at you.

“I thought the boys combated that really well, we just stuck to our game, weathered the storm a bit and finally got some ascendancy and ran away with it.”

Australia takes on Wales on Sunday September 29, kicking off at 4:45pm local, 5:45pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel, Network Ten and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO, Rugby Xplorer and Amazon Alexa.