Rugby Union

Co-captaincy and rhythm has Brumbies goalkicker Christian Lealiifano back to his best

Brumbies co-captain Christian Lealiifano has rediscovered his radar ahead of his return to Newlands where he missed a ...
Brumbies co-captain Christian Lealiifano has rediscovered his radar ahead of his return to Newlands where he missed a crucial kick last year. Photo: Gallo Images

Former Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock offered ACT Brumbies co-captain Christian Lealiifano some goalkicking advice during the pre-season and all Lealiifano did was laugh.

It wasn't until later Mortlock realised Lealiifano had already enacted his recommendations and it's one of the reasons why the Brumbies kicker has returned to his brilliant form of a couple years ago.

The other is he thinks the co-captaincy suits Lealiifano.

Lealiifano is returning to Cape Town, where he missed a crucial kick that would have given them a win instead of the 25-24 loss to the Stormers last season.

He'd struggled with his kicking for two years following ankle surgery at the end of 2013, when he'd established himself as the Wallabies kicker and was winning games off his own boot - both in Tests and at Super Rugby level.

But he seems to have returned to that form, kicking 17 of his 19 shots so far this season - with one of those misses an audacious attempt from beyond his usual range.

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Mortlock put it down to a combination of the co-captaincy and a new-found rhythm from a change in run up.

"I know how hard a worker Christian is and in particular with his goalkicking he's very diligent and works extremely hard in that facet of his game as well," he said.

"I felt that leadership would be something that sat well with him and if anything the extra pressure would be great for him to thrive.

"From a goalkicking perspective that seems to be the case."

They're both areas Mortlock is well credentialed to talk about, having captained the Wallabies and Brumbies, and being a deadly kicker himself - most famously kicking a penalty from the sideline to win Australia it's first Tri Nations crown in 2000.

Mortlock said Lealiifano used to have a couple of backwards "jinks" before he began his run-up and he felt that could make it hard for him to find his rhythm.

The Brumbies legend suggested he remove those jinks, only to find out later they'd already gone.

"He laughed and smiled at me and I remember thinking at the time, 'That was interesting' because when I played that was something I worked on," Mortlock said.

"He didn't actually reveal to me he'd changed his run up, so the very first game I saw it and went, 'Ahhh, fantastic'."

Former Wallaby Greg Martin said Lealiifano's confidence was "sky high" and it was not only coming out in his kicking, but his general play as well.

He said Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham's decision to play Lealiifano at flyhalf this season instead of inside centre was paying off, with the No.10 having already developed a good rapport with Argentina international Tomas Cubelli.

Martin initially had concerns about how scrumhalf Cubelli would communicate with his Brumbies teammates, but he said that had been unfounded.

"His confidence seems to be sky high ... [Larkham] has given him tremendous confidence and he's playing like it too," Martin said.

"He's taking the line on, he's got that sidestep back, and he's got his goalkicking. Every time he makes a decision it comes from a confident view point.

"It's reflected in the way he's playing. I like the fact that he's at 10 as well, it seems to be going pretty well.

"His combination with Cubelli - I was just a little bit worried with the Spanish thing at the start of the year, but Cubelli is such a good instinctive player. Those two seem to be forming a good little combo."

SUPER RUGBY ROUND 4

Sunday: ACT Brumbies v Cape Town Stormers at Newlands, 4.15am. TV: Live on Fox Sports 2.