SPORTS

Newfoundland back Ciaran Hearn's boot makes a difference for Canada

11/13/2014 03:33 EST | Updated 01/13/2015 05:59 EST
While James Pritchard's kicking is a reliable source of points for the Canadian rugby team, Ciaran Hearn's boot is also a weapon.

The six-foot-two, 220-pound back from Conception Bay South, N.L., takes care of Canada's restarts with world-class kicks whose hang times would do NASA proud.

The soaring kicks give the Canadian men a chance to get under the ball, setting the stage for a turnover. And with teams that are scored upon having to kick off in rugby, that means a chance at immediate payback.

Hearn, who was named Rugby Canada's 15s player of the year in 2013, will look to use his booming kicks Friday when the 17th-ranked Canadians take on No. 11 Samoa at Stade de la Rabine in Vannes, France.

"His kicks have a lot of hang time," said Canadian coach Kieran Crowley, a former kicker himself in his All Black days. "In the sevens game he's pretty effective in that area and he's just transferred it over to the 15s.

"The more hang time you can have, particularly on the long kicks, the further you can go obviously and catch them down in that area. He does a lot of practice at it so it's a skill that he certainly works at and it's an attribute to his game."

Rugby teams work hard on restarts, with receiving teams scattering pods around the field — usually two men with one lifting the other high to deny chasing players from the kicking team a chance to get at the ball.

A high kick can give a speedster from the kicking side a running start — and a chance to compete in the air. The All Blacks are experts at securing their own restarts.

The 28-year-old Hearn is modest about his kicking, noting that other than kickoffs, restarts mean points have been conceded. So he's happy when his kicking skills aren't needed.

"But for me, it's a pivotal role in the sevens game which I've played for the last six years so it's kind of developed over those years," he said. "It's just a little part of the game but it's something I kind of take pride in.

"In the end you're just trying to put some pressure on the other team and put it to where you want it."

Restarts are even more crucial in sevens with fewer players to compete for the ball.

Hearn, who has played at wing, starts at inside centre this week for Crowley's 15-man team.

"We moved him into (No.) 12 last week because I think he's a big guy that has the skill set to handle that position," said Crowley. "And I was quite pleased with the way he and (Conor) Trainor combined in the midfield so they're continuing that combination this week."

Hearn is also Canada's long-distance kicker if a penalty is out of Pritchard's range.

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