It's no secret that the All Blacks want to have a strong and clever kicking game when they go to the World Cup later this year.

The big problem for them at the moment is that they don't have a strong and clever kicking game.

They have lost their way when it comes to building effective attacking strategies with the boot; which is being kind.

The non sugar-coated assessment is that their kicking game fell apart last year. They never, or at least hardly ever, got it right - either kicking too much or too little, and rarely did they put the ball in the right place.


Having put the development of their kicking game on hold in 2017 while they tried to build effective running strategies to break defences, the All Blacks coaches were disappointed with what they saw last year from their kickers.

In the last World Cup cycle kicking was the core strength of their game. They were the masters at using the contestable kick to win back possession or to at least pin their opponent in hard-to-get-out-of-places.

They were also superb at turning their opposition, forcing them to scurry back and scramble hurried exit strategies that would often be botched.

They used their kicking game to create opportunities for their running and passing game – operating as a genuine triple threat team.

It used to drive former Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer mad that his side couldn't build the same effective kicking game.

Kicking the ball is South Africa's thing and yet they didn't have the accuracy or tactical acumen of the All Blacks in the last World Cup cycle.

But where once the All Blacks led the world, they now pose nowhere near the same threat with the boot as they once did.

It's a gaping flaw in their set-up – an absolute must to be fixed if they are to make history in Japan this year.

When Steve Hansen said after the loss to South Africa in Wellington the team had almost zero game management, much of that was due to the lack of control, direction and accuracy of the kicking game.

It wasn't a one-off and throughout the season the All Blacks struggled with how much to kick and where to kick.

Aaron Smith's box kicking regressed and Beauden Barrett too often kicked as a last resort when he was under pressure and it ended up being neither contestable nor territory-gaining.

It was after the scrambled win in Pretoria that the decision was made to introduce two-playmakers into the starting backline and as much as that was about improving the decision-making, it was also aimed at giving the All Blacks more kicking options.

Beauden Barrett tries to stab a kick between Ireland's Devin Toner and Garry Ringrose. Photo / Getty Images
Beauden Barrett tries to stab a kick between Ireland's Devin Toner and Garry Ringrose. Photo / Getty Images

It was a tacit admission they weren't doing enough strategic damage with their kicking.

The test against England at Twickenham was a bright spot – a disciplined and accurate display of strategic kicking, but the All Blacks ended the season with a clear brief to improve an aspect of their game which was so crucial for them at the last World Cup.

The importance of a quality kicking game was reiterated in the first two rounds of the Six Nations where England were superb.

They mixed things up cleverly and if Ben Youngs wasn't delivering the perfect contestable box kick, Owen Farrell was putting the ball behind the rushing defensive line and finding acres of space.

England's defence was hailed the hero of the Dublin win but the accuracy, vision and timing of their kicking game stunned the Irish who had taken a risk fielding a regular centre at fullback.

The following week at Twickenham, France were made to pay for jumbling up their selections and throwing midfielders into their back three.

Farrell, Youngs and Henry Slade all exposed France's poor positioning and if anyone wants to know why England have become such a potent force – it is because they have developed a triple threat game of pass, run, kick.

They kick well to create pressure and then exploit it.

For New Zealand to be the same threat the quality of their kicking has to improve and it has to start in Super Rugby.

Passing and running will remain the foundation skills of all five Super Rugby sides in 2019 and no one is suggesting that should change.

But what the All Blacks coaches would like to see is Smith, Barrett, TJ Perenara, Richie Mo'unga, Damian McKenzie, Jordie Barrett and Ben Smith use the boot throughout the season.

All of them need to improve their understanding of when and where to kick and while neither of the two halfbacks will be asked to box kick as much as Conor Murray when then they play for the All Blacks, they will be expected to be as accurate and as effective as the Irishman when they do.

And as much as the coaches want to see the kickers hone their work and learn how to piece a game plan together with an astute mix of decision-making, they would also like to see the outside backs improve their chasing.

If the 2015 World Cup was won by the All Blacks attacking kick strategy, the 2011 success was built on their defensive work.

The back three of Richard Kahui, Cory Jane and Israel Dagg were almost faultless at diffusing the aerial assault they constantly faced and they worked so hard to apply pressure when they were chasing high kicks.

Rieko Ioane is one of the quickest players in world rugby but he is not at this stage of his career a great kick-chaser, which is true of Waisake Naholo as well.

A good chase build the pressure on the defence – gives an average kick a chance of being something more.

To win the World Cup the All Blacks are going to have to use their brains and also their feet.