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The inventor of the grubber kick

John Griffiths January 3, 2014
Bennie Osler - the man who invented the grubber kick © PA Photos
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When did the grubber kick become a recognised tactic? Dougie Allan, Scotland

The first player who regularly used a deliberate punt into the ground - the grubber kick - was Bennie Osler, the shrewd Springbok fly-half whose Test career spanned the years from 1924 to 1933.

He was a master kicker - both out of the hand and off the ground - and a strong tactical controller. Osler developed the grubber kick mainly as a wet-weather ruse to put full-backs under pressure. The method used was to kick with the instep, toes pointing down. The ball would then roll unpredictably, invariably causing defenders to knock-on.

One of the earliest Test tries arising from the grubber came during the fourth and Final international of the 1928 series between South Africa and New Zealand. Conditions were awful in Cape Town. Heavy rain during the week preceding the Test had saturated the Newlands pitch and the muddy surface and wet conditions were not conducive to open play. The game went down in Springbok history as the "umbrella Test."

The All Blacks were leading 3-0 (through a Mark Nicholls penalty goal) when Osler received a pass from a scrum deep in New Zealand territory. Finding the opposition backs up flat the Springbok fly-half grubber-kicked through a gap and his centre, J C (Jacob) van der Westhuizen beat full-back Herb Lilburne to the ball, kicked on and outpaced winger Bert Grenside in a foot-race to the posts for a try that Osler converted to give South Africa a 5-3 lead.

Nicholls regained the lead for the All Blacks with his second penalty just before half-time and the tourists added a try and dropped goal in the second-half to win 13-5 and thus tie the series.

John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.
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