The pressure obviously hangs on USA flyhalf Nese Malifa.
Despite some positive elements to his game – his passing has been accurate, he has showcased some outstanding defense, and he can still sidestep his way out of trouble – the USA #10 has not delivered in one of his primary goals – placekicking.
Malifa missed two eminently makeable penalties against Canada last weekend, and wasn’t asked to attempt any more. His kicks have looked good – high, curving efforts that should sail though the posts. He has just been missing.
Oddly, his one successful effort last Saturday was a conversion from the right-hand touchline, perhaps the toughest kick for a right-footer.
“I've been kicking well at the training sessions, but have over-analyzed it during the recent matches,” acknowledged Malifa. “Consistency is of course the key, and I hope to have that this weekend against Japan.”
Malifa told RUGBYMag.com that he has enjoyed working with kicking coach Chris O’Brien and the work has enabled him to be a better kicker. Certainly the kicks look good in the air; they are just not getting between the sticks. Malifa knows it, and knows now, it seems, that worrying about it at the time could cost him.
But there is more to the game at flyhalf that kicking goals. Malifa is in charge of directing the backline offense and defense.
”We are getting more time together and the combinations are clicking,” said Malifa, who will work with a new center pairing of Paul Emerick at inside and Tai Enosa at outside, this Sunday against Japan. Support and defense are crucial, too, and keep coming up as the USA piles up line breaks, but not tries.
“We still need to finish those opportunities, and have therefore been focusing on those support lines this past week. Work off the ball is important, and it's all about the hustle.”