Wallabies skills coach Mick Byrne has hailed Reece Hodge as one of the best kicks he’s ever seen as the Test newcomer prepares to unleash his superboot at high altitude.
Hodge has retained his spot on the left wing and will make his fourth appearance for Australia in Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash against the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld (Sunday morning AEST).
Having announced his arrival to international rugby by crunching a monster 55m penalty on debut in Wellington last month, all eyes will be on Hodge to see just how much more distance he can squeeze out with the aid of the thin air and generous hangtime of South Africa’s Highveld region.
Byrne, who joined the Australian Rugby Union in July, is rubbing his hands together with glee at the thought of nurturing the strongly-built 22-year-old and his “prodigious” technique.
“I just remember the first day I worked with him, I was taken aback by how much power he generates with no step,” Byrne said.
“I’d say he’s as good as some of the AFL guys when he gets hold of it.
“Growing up he played AFL, cricket, rugby, rugby league – I think being an all-round sportsman growing up gives you a little bit of hand-eye coordination as well.
“It’s pretty exciting for me as a kicking coach when you get somebody with that much power.
“It’s up to me now to harness it correctly for him so it becomes a real good weapon for him.”
A former ruckman for three different clubs in the old Victorian Football League, Byrne joked the altitude had extended his own kicking range by 10 metres.
It’s therefore not inconceivable to imagine Hodge splitting the posts in Pretoria from well behind the halfway line – which could, in turn, influence South African tactics and deter them from conceding penalties in that part of the field.
Byrne is also keen to see Hodge involved in more field kicking, should the opportunity present itself.
“If, depending on where he’s playing, he gets the chance to send a long kick from inside our 22 into touch from the wing position, that’d be handy,” he said.
“I’m just enjoying the fact he’s a young fella wanting to get better and he’s playing some good rugby and enjoying it. I’ve really enjoyed working with him.”
Byrne said playmakers Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley, who kicked well during the Wallabies’ back-to-back wins over the Springboks and Pumas, were working hard to ensure they too will adapt to the conditions.