Rhys Priestland helped host a Kick your way to the Grand Final master class earlier this week and the Scarlets star had one piece of advice for all budding goal kickers: just relax.
Priestland passed on plenty of tips to a handful of online winners at the final Welsh master class as our Kick your way to the Grand Final competition gathers pace.
We’ve now completed phase two of the competition, with winners enjoying an exclusive kicking session with the likes of Priestland, James Hook, Dan Parks and Ian Humphreys, as well as a behind the scenes tour of their favourite club with inside info from players such Johnnie Beattie, Marco Bortolami and Ross Ford.
We now move on to phase three, which will see the best kickers from our 12 sessions shooting for further glory during the half-time interval of a Magners League match.
And the adventure doesn’t end there either. For two lucky winners associated with the sides who reach the Magners League Grand Final on May 28, the competition will reach a climax during the season’s showpiece event.
Kicking on the big stage undoubtedly brings extra pressure but Priestland, who has scored just under 150 points in 16 Magners League matches so far this term, insists the key to success is the ability to relax rather than allowing the magnitude of the occasion to get to you.
“I’ve just started taking a lot of pressure off myself. I used to get really worked up about kicking and put a lot of pressure on myself if I missed, thinking it was the end of the world,” said Priestland, who looks set to make his 50th Magners League start when the Scarlets host Munster this weekend.
“It probably sounds a bit strange, but I try not to think about kicking too much. Obviously, I want the kick to go over, but I try not worry about whether it will go over or not.
“I just try and go through the process that I know I’ve got to go through and, as long as I do everything correctly and have done everything I can, I’m happy. You’re going to miss the odd kick so you just try and control everything you can up until the impact and then hopefully things will take care of themselves.
“I’ve done some work recently with Andy McCann who’s the sports psychologist for the Welsh Rugby Union. I’ve done a lot of work with him from before the kick happens and leading up to the point where you start your run up. It’s about just trying to switch off as soon as you’re ready, relax into it, keep your eyes on the ball and then get through it.
“My advice is just to do what you can up until you make contact with the ball. You’re going to miss some kicks – that’s a fact of life. But don’t let it affect the rest of your game.
“I find that when I’m warming up and just running through the ball, they’re sometimes some of my best strikes. So it is important to just relax and try not to think about it too much.”
Rhys Priestland is in fine form with the boot
Scarlets supporters will have noticed a big improvement in the consistency of Priestland’s goal kicking and his overall performances this season.
Priestland has impressed at both full back and fly-half, either alongside or in the absence of Lions veteran Stephen Jones, and the 24-year-old believes separating his kicking from all other aspects of his game has played a major role in his good form.
“I’ve done a lot of work with Neil Jenkins and I’ve spoken to Nigel Davies before and everyone tells you the same thing – kicking is something you have to look at on its own,” added Priestland.
“I just found it hard to believe that. But as you get a bit older and a bit more mature, you just realise that it is a totally separate issue and, what ever happens there, you can’t let it affect the team or the way you play within the team.
“It’s so important to try and distance kicking from the rest of the game. If I do have a bad game with the boot, I’ll do my best not to let it affect my rugby."
Priestland passed on plenty of tips to our competition winners
Priestland speaks openly and honestly about his kicking regime and the youngster is full of admiration for one man in particular who has helped the development of his kicking game.
Former world record points scorer Neil Jenkins has had a huge impact on Priestland’s performances with the boot having offered his substantial expertise on a regular basis.
The Wales kicking guru has passed on plenty of technical knowledge, as well as reminding his Scarlets protégé that kicking is an individual skill where copy cat regimes rarely bare fruit.
“Neil is a great guy. He’s been patient with me. I know I haven’t been in the Welsh squad for long but even before that he’d come down and see me. I know he hasn’t got to do that but he’d take time out of his week and I’m very grateful for that.
“That’s one of the best things for me about being in the last Six Nations squad – being able to work with Neil every day of the week. I learnt a lot from him. I think everyone in Wales who gets to have his input is very lucky. There’s isn’t anyone better.
“There’s a time and a place when he can be very technical. You miss a kick and sometimes you’re wondering what’s happened but he’s caught something out of the corner of his eye and he knows what’s gone wrong. He’s a great bloke and a good teacher as well. I can’t speak highly enough of him.
“I ask him how he used to kick and he keeps telling me that every kicker is different. You see some kickers trying to imitate other kickers but I think it’s important to just get a feel for it yourself.
“I tried visualising things but it didn’t really work for me. I know other kickers do it but I think kickers generally work things out for themselves when it comes to what works best for them. With me, it’s just trying not to think about it too much.
“If you find something that works for you, just work on that. Obviously people give you advice, but you’ve got to be the one who’s comfortable.”