Every kicker has their own style and preferences they are particular about, and one of those preferences that can be often widely overlooked is the type of ball being used. Change the ball and you change everything – the shape is different, the weight is different, the sweet spot is different.
All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett has been no stranger to heavy criticism for his unreliable goal kicking in recent years. It has been the thorn in the side for the back-to-back Player of the Year, particularly this year where his off night against the Springboks in Wellington left a number of points off the board that could have been the difference in the chaotic 36-34 loss.
In exploring a left-field explanation for his up-and-down results, we looked at his goal-kicking statistics when considering the type of ball used and found an astounding difference.
NZR has an exclusive sponsorship agreement with Adidas that covers kit, boots, and the match ball for All Blacks home games. Over his three seasons as the preferred All Blacks 10, Barrett has kicked goals with two brands, Adidas and the old reliable Gilbert.
The sample size is greater for the Gilbert in 2018, but there are enough home games with the Adidas ball to derive some conclusions. When using the Gilbert this year, Beauden Barrett has a world-class 81.8% goal-kicking success rate compared with a miserable 54.5% success rate with the Adidas ball.
That’s nearly a thirty percent difference. Is this is a coincidence?
With the Gilbert, Barrett has kicked 27 from 33 attempts, with only six misses. In three games with the Adidas, he has kicked 12 from 22 attempts, with ten misses. A severely disproportionate amount of his misses have come from using an Adidas rugby ball.
What’s more, Barrett has four games in 2018 with a 100% kicking percentage, all with the Gilbert. Since that fateful Springboks game in Wellington in mid-September, the last home game of the year, Barrett has kicked 23 from 26 with an 88.8% success rate and has only been playing with a Gilbert.
If we go back to 2016 and 2017, we find a similar disparity, although not as great as 2018.
In 2017 with the Gilbert, Barrett kicked 26 from 30, at a success rate of 86.6% compared with 35 from 45 at a success rate of 77.7% with the Adidas.
In 2016 with the Gilbert, he kicked 24 from 33, at a success rate of 72.7% compared with 25 from 37 at a success rate of 67.5% with the Adidas. In all three years, his performance with the Gilbert has been greater, and the spread has gotten wider and wider each year.
The difference between hot and cold games is also notable, he has kicked a perfect 100% in eight games with the Gilbert compared to just two with Adidas, while a shocking 0% has occurred twice with the Adidas and zero times with the Gilbert. In general, it seems that with the Adidas ball, Barrett is more prone to having an average day.
Over the full three year sample period as All Blacks flyhalf, Barrett’s kicking percentage with the Gilbert ball is 80.2% and with the Adidas ball, it is 69.2%. The disparity is not only undeniable, but the 11% swing is also the difference between world-class and discernibly average.
Is it a familiarity thing with Gilbert being the ball provider for Super Rugby, and one that Barrett himself trains with regularly?
Whatever the case, with the Rugby World Cup using a Gilbert, All Blacks fans should feel a little less worried if Barrett is lining up a crucial kick.
The statistics definitively show he is a better goal kicker when the old Gilbert is used, but it is an inconvenient truth for the All Blacks and Barrett, who are both sponsored by Adidas.
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