Rugby players may not be able to control the weather but Ian Humphreys tells us how he does his best to combat the wind and the rain at Ravenhill.
Humphreys has been in superb form for Play-Off chasing Ulster this term, guiding the Northern Irish province to fourth place in the Magners League table and a Heineken Cup quarter final.
The former Leicester playmaker has been pulling the strings at halfback alongside Springbok star Ruan Pienaar but it’s his goal kicking that will come under close scrutiny next Wednesday when he leads an exclusive masterclass as part of our Kick your way to the Grand Final competition.
Humphreys and Magners League ambassador Stephen Ferris will be joined by six lucky winners who will all be in with a shot of taking centre stage at the 2011 Grand Final.
But first they have to come to grips with notoriously tricky conditions at Ravenhill, one of the northern hemisphere’s most iconic venues but one which is partial to more than a little wind.
It’s a situation that Humphreys himself has got used to and he insists the key to success is not to allow the conditions to become your sole focus.
“When you’re kicking in the wind, you’ve just got to pick your line,” Humphreys told us.
“There’s a pretty consistent wind that blows to the Memorial end at Ravenhill so it’s something you get used to as a home player.
“Anything inside 30 metres, you don’t aim outside the posts. A well struck kick is only affected by the wind when it slows down so it shouldn’t be a major issue from that sort of range.
“Outside that distance, with the wind we get here, sometimes you can be aiming up to 15 metres wide of the posts!
“The key is not to let the wind do your job. Once you’ve picked your line, just hit straight through the ball. Don’t try and curl it in with the wind or fade it in.
“You just have to trust your technique and the wind will do the rest. The biggest mistake people make is trying to play with the wind once they’ve lined the kick up.”
Ian Humphreys is all set for our kicking master class
Humphreys does admit, though, that there are days when, however hard you try, the wind will never let you win.
The 28-year-old brother of former Ireland goal kicking hero David Humphreys admits that knowing your limits and accepting the weather will never be a constant force is all part of the game.
“Some days you just can’t kick and you have to accept that,” added Humphreys.
“The Irish Wolfhounds played England Saxons here and Steven Myler had a kick which, even if he’d have hit it out of town, he wouldn’t have got it as the wind made it impossible. On days like that, you just have to be prepared to say that some kicks simply aren’t getable.
“You have to take each kick on its day. Some days you feel you could kick the ball for miles and other days you just can’t.
“There’s been times where I’ve been thinking that 65 or 70 metres is the range at Ravenhill but we had one game in the European Cup against Biarritz where I was short from 30 metres out.
“The easiest wind to deal with is either a wind that you kick straight into or kick straight against. Whenever you kick against cross winds, that’s the hardest part.
“For me, the wind that I find the most difficult to deal with is if I’m kicking into the wind and it’s blowing from left to right. I really struggle then. It’s very difficult for me to get any kind of distance when the wind is like that.
“When the ball slows down at the top of its flight, the wind just wreaks havoc. If you haven’t hit it well, you can end up looking pretty stupid as the ball can end up 40 metres away from where you were aiming it.”
Our competition winners will meet Ian and Stephen Ferris
Wind isn’t the only factor to affect the job of a goal kicker but Humphreys insists the quality of the surface at Ravenhill at least ensures that keeping your standing foot grounded isn’t often a problem.
You often see kickers lose there balance when their non-kicking fails to grip the turf but Humphreys says that gauging distance is the biggest issue when the rains fall.
For Humphreys, it’s the confidence that comes from practice that plays the biggest factor on a mtachday.
“We’re fortunate that the pitch is very good at Ravenhill and the rain doesn’t play a huge role.
“The only issue with rain is that, especially when it’s cold, the ball doesn’t travel quite as well. You can lose distance if there’s moisture in the air but, apart from that, rain doesn’t really affect anything at all.
“At the minute, Ruan (Pienaar), Niall (O’Connor) and I are all pretty confident because we’ve been kicking well in practice. That’s why practice is so important. With the number of kicks we put in during the week, you’re pretty confident that the ball’s going to go over.
“In the past, there’s definitely been times where you think ‘I don’t know if I fancy this’, whereas at the moment, we’re having a crack at anything. We all think we’re not going to miss too many.
“There’s no doubt that when you’re on a roll or your confidence is sky high, you’re going to have a go at a few more kicks. If you’ve missed a few, you may be standing about thinking ‘is my technique right, is my angle right?’ so you do get doubts.
“But that’s where practice comes in. You’ve put in the time, then you know everything should be alright.”