In-form scrum-half Sonatane Takulua insists he is enjoying the added pressure of goal-kicking as his Newcastle Falcons side fly south for Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash with Harlequins.
Tonga’s player of the year demonstrated his kicking prowess with a long-range last-minute winner in his country’s historic test victory over Italy in November, having hit four from four two weeks earlier against Spain.
Assuming goal-kicking duties for the Falcons over the past two months, the 26-year-old has touched down five tries this season in a stellar campaign which sees his Premiership strike rate at 83.3% after landing his last six kicks at goal.
“It was a bit of a surprise when the coaches asked me to step up and take the kicks, but I enjoy the responsibility,” said Takulua.
“I’ve always mucked around with goal-kicking and it’s something that I enjoy. I kicked goals when I played club rugby in New Zealand and I played a bit at fly-half there too, but when I moved up to ITM Cup I didn’t kick goals during those games. I would still do it around training, as I’ve done at Newcastle for the last few years, but the first time I kicked for a professional team was for Tonga last year.
“I like kicking goals. It’s a buzz, and it’s part of leadership. The supporters and your team-mates rely on you, and I even enjoy the practice. You can’t miss an easy kick or one inside the 22. Maybe from further out it’s more understandable, but you practice and practice the little kicks and it all pays off.
“In terms of my style, everyone here knows Jonny Wilkinson, and he is someone I’ve looked up to. I just found a style that worked for me and kept doing it, although any kicker will tell you Kingston Park is not always the easiest place to kick. The way the wind is up here you have good days and bad days, but you can’t let it get in your head. You just have to keep going, even when the wind changes direction at half-time!”
The Falcons have already defeated Saturday’s opponents Harlequins once this season, having recorded a 38-32 victory over the Londoners at Kingston Park Stadium back in December.
Takulua said: “We should be confident about going down there and winning with the squad we have got and the coaching team preparing us the right way. Everyone is comfortable with each other, we know how we play and we can definitely get some points out of it.
“I think it’s important to take what we did well in our home game against Harlequins and use it in our preparation for the away game. It was a while ago now, but we will still take it with us.
“We’ve parked the Saracens home loss to the side, gone away and enjoyed our couple of weeks off rugby, and the boys are excited now about taking on Harlequins in front of their own home crowd. Everything is in place from a training point of view and we just need to do it on the weekend now.”
Aiming for bigger things with the lure of Champions Cup rugby still on the horizon, he added: “We have only got five games left. It’s hard for the guys who haven’t been picked but we’ve had a meeting as a squad and really asked for their commitment all the way through until the end of the season. We can’t be in holiday mode yet because we’re not finished for the year, and we still have a chance to make the top six.
“For me personally, I look back to when I first came over here and it was a difficult time back then. It was my first time in the Premiership, it was a massively different game from where I came from and I still believe I can push further with my game. I want to go over and beyond my limits as a player.”