Rugby World Cup 2019: Wales’ ‘Steve Smith’ and the gun kickers set to decide the tournament

Jonah Lomu, David Campese and Bryan Habana hog the historical highlights but the 2019 Rugby World Cup could well be decided by these metronomes.

And the Wallabies and All Blacks have some issues as it remains unclear whether Christian Lealiifano, Bernard Foley, Matt To’omua, Beauden Barrett or Richie Mo’unga will be tasked with slotting the crunch goals.

With the help of Fox Sports Lab, let’s delve into the goalkicking guns sharpening their skills ahead of the tournament opener in Japan on September 20.

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The Steve Smith of rugby?

The Steve Smith of rugby?

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— DAN BIGGAR (WALES) —

Test career goalkicking percentage: 88%, 122/138

Overall record: 73 Tests, 351 points (4 tries)

The 29-year-old attracted plenty of attention at the 2015 World Cup with his unusual, distinctive goalkicking ritual one that Steve Smith and Rafa Nadal would be proud of.

He tops our list with an outstanding 88% Test return — five percentage points clear of the next best.

Biggar was set to play second fiddle behind Gareth Anscombe in Japan but is now back in the No 10 jersey after Anscombe’s unfortunate injury.

Wales play the Wallabies in their second pool game.

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Greig Laidlaw of Scotland kicks a conversion at Dinamo Arena.
Greig Laidlaw of Scotland kicks a conversion at Dinamo Arena.Source: Getty Images

— GREIG LAIDLAW (SCOTLAND) —

Test career goalkicking percentage: 83%, 259/314

Overall record: 73 Tests, 695 points (4 tries)

The little halfback carries a lot on his shoulders as captain and chief pointscorer.

Somewhat spookily, the 33-year-old has played the same number of Tests and scored the same number of tries as the aforementioned Biggar.

Laidlaw sits third on Scotland’s all-time scoring list behind Chris Paterson (809) and Gavin Hastings (733).

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Owen Farrell of England kicks a conversion at St James’ Park.
Owen Farrell of England kicks a conversion at St James’ Park.Source: Getty Images

— OWEN FARRELL (ENGLAND) —

Test career goalkicking percentage: 80%, 307/385

Overall record: 77 Tests, 848 points (10 tries)

The son of league great Andy, Farrell has combined a tough, aggressive style of play with an unflappable approach to goalkicking.

Possessing a powerful boot, rival teams will be wary of giving away penalties anywhere in their own half.

Despite his prowess, Farrell (who can play No 10 or 12) may share some goalkicking duties with the in-form George Ford, who has slotted all 13 of his attempts in Tests this year.

Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez slots a penalty against Georgia in San Salvador.
Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez slots a penalty against Georgia in San Salvador.Source: AFP

— NICOLAS SANCHEZ (ARGENTINA) —

Test career goalkicking percentage: 79%, 246/312

Overall record: 77 Tests, 728 points (11 tries)

Sometimes Sanchez can infuriate with football-style dives and other gamesmanship.

When he puts that silly stuff away he is an incredible rugby player.

One of the true stars of the 2015 World Cup, Sanchez showed he was human when he struggled with Sydney’s seaside breeze against Randwick at Coogee Oval last weekend.

Bernard Foley of the Wallabies kicks at goal at Bankwest Stadium.
Bernard Foley of the Wallabies kicks at goal at Bankwest Stadium.Source: Getty Images

— BERNARD FOLEY (AUSTRALIA) —

Test career goalkicking percentage: 78%, 398/511

Overall record: 69 Tests, 615 points (16 tries)

Foley was one of the stars of the 2015 World Cup where he memorably booted Scotland out in the quarterfinals.

But his ‘Iceman’ reputation has thawed recently and the just-turned 30-year-old is now locked in a battle with Christian Lealiifano to wear the No 10 jersey in Japan.

Foley booted just 2/6 in Saturday’s scratchy win over Samoa.

“Bernard hasn’t kicked in game for a while,” Wallabies coach Michael Cheika said.

“He’s been kicking them like a champion at training.

“That’ll do him the world of good.

“We didn’t flinch there and try to change him.

“Just let him get into the groove of it.

“I think those guys are great goalkickers and when the heat’s on at the cup and goals are at a high demand they’ll be kicking them for sure.”

Ireland’s Johnny Sexton kicks a penalty against the Wallabies in Melbourne.
Ireland’s Johnny Sexton kicks a penalty against the Wallabies in Melbourne.Source: AFP

— JOHNNY SEXTON (IRELAND) —

Test career goalkicking percentage: 76%, 266/351

Overall record: 90 Tests, 770 points (11 tries)

The reigning world player of the year for an Ireland side entering the World Cup ranked No 1.

Sexton is a ferocious competitor and at 34 this is his final shot at rugby immortality.

Has battled injuries of late but is fit to take his place in Japan.

Ireland’s generally conservative tactics rely heavily on the boot of Sexton and Joe Schmidt’s side is destined for a blockbuster quarterfinal against either the All Blacks or Springboks.

South Africa’s Handre Pollard takes a penalty kick at the Kumagaya Rugby Stadium.
South Africa’s Handre Pollard takes a penalty kick at the Kumagaya Rugby Stadium.Source: AFP

— HANDRE POLLARD (SOUTH AFRICA) —

Test career goalkicking percentage: 75%, 138/184

Overall record: 42 Tests, 388 points (6 tries)

Only 25-years-old but it feels like Pollard has been around forever.

Kicks off the tournament as the form No 10 in world rugby after slotting a clutch goal in the All Blacks draw in Wellington and piloting the Springboks to their first Rugby Championship title.

Pollard is one of the many Super Rugby stars sadly taking their talents to the northern hemisphere next season (Montpellier).

Look out for his preference of moving the kicking tee considerably back to increase the distance but improve his angle.

All Blacks fly half Beauden Barrett preparing to kick the ball against Argentina.
All Blacks fly half Beauden Barrett preparing to kick the ball against Argentina.Source: AFP

— BEAUDEN BARRETT (NEW ZEALAND —

Test career goalkicking percentage: 73%, 203/278

Overall record: 78 Tests, 631 points (33 tries)

An outrageously talented player who has scored 17 more Test tries than the next best (Foley) on this list.

But it’s fair to say Kiwis don’t have the same confidence when Barrett lines up a shot as they did when Dan Carter, Grant Fox and Andrew Mehrtens were assessing the breeze.

Barrett’s 73 per cent strike rate is the worst among the leading nations and he is likely to play at fullback and job share with Richie Mo’unga — who nailed all of his attempts in this year’s Super Rugby playoffs.

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