From The Vaults

28 February 2022
Springbok kickers through the ages

The Springboks have been renowned for hard and athletic ruggedness since joining the international fold against the British Isles in 1891. Although their early test match results against the British touring sides were disappointing, their two tours of the United Kingdom and France before the 1st World War demonstrated that Springbok forward strength allied to direct running threequarters was very difficult to overcome when augmented by an ability to kick penalty goals at key moments.

The rollcall of great Springbok kickers starts with the balding Transvaal forward Douglas Morkel, one of the stars of the pre-war UK tours. He played in two tests against Ireland and England in 1906 without troubling the scorers, but his kicking record in his seven tests against the British Lions in 1910 and the home countries and France in 1912-13 was highly significant. A prodigious long-range goal kicker, he scored 38 points in these tests, including the solitary winning penalty goal against Wales, two vital second half penalty goals in their 9-3 win over England, and 13 points against France in which his drop goal was described by Danie Craven in extravagant fashion:

"During the second half a penalty was awarded to South Africa in their own half of the field. Thinking it was an unfair decision, the captain, Billy Millar, told Dougie to kick the ball away. Instead of punting, Dougie drop-kicked at goal. It soared through the posts, the crowd roared and they all poured onto the field, wanting to touch this miraculous man."

When the British Lions toured South Africa in 1924, they faced the Western Province fly half, Bennie Osler, in the first of his 17 consecutive appearances over the next nine years. His drop goal in the 18th minute of a match won 7-3 by the Springboks was the difference between the two teams and his reading of the game was a key component in the convincing 3-0 series victory for the home side. A supreme tactical kicker from hand and a renowned drop goal specialist, his influence on the four tests played by the Springboks against New Zealand in 1928 was as great. He kicked 14 of South Africa's 17 points in their 17-0 victory in the 1st test and marshalled the Springbok backline expertly in a closely fought 4-test series.

Osler captained the Springboks on their tour to the UK in 1931-32 but he was heavily criticised for the unadventurous tactics adopted by the team despite their winning all four tests, albeit by small margins. He concluded his test career by captaining the Springboks against the Wallabies in a 5-test series in 1933 and ended with 46 international points including a then South African record four drop goals. Against England at Twickenham in January 1932 another great kicker emerged, the Western Province full back Gerry Brand. He sealed the Springboks' 7-0 victory with an enormous drop goal from his own half in the closing minutes of the match. This was the fifth international match in his 16-test career which ended after the first test against the British Lions in 1938 with him as record points scorer with 55 points from 13 conversions, seven penalty goals and two drop goals.

When international rugby resumed after the end of the 2nd World War, the penalty goal had become ubiquitous and any side that took the field without a recognised kicker was likely to suffer. The bulky 28-year old Transvaal prop forward, Okey Geffin, caused a sensation when he kicked all five penalty goals in the 1st test against the All Blacks at Newlands in July 1949. By the end of the four test clean sweep, Geffin had scored 32 points including 10 penalties and his fly half, Hansie Brewis had added two drop goals. To put their kicking exploits in perspective, only three tries were scored by the Springboks in the four tests. The tour of the UK and France in 1951-52 produced another clean sweep for the Springboks in the five tests. Geffin with seven conversions in the 44-0 massacre of Scotland and Brewis with drop goals against Scotland, Ireland and Wales played important roles in securing the victories.

The scourge of opposition defences in the 1960s was the Griqualand West fly half Piet Visagie. In 25 matches between 1967 and 1971, the first sixteen of which were consecutive, he scored 130 points including series victories against the British Lions in 1968 and the All Blacks in 1970. The 1970s was a period of much reduced international exposure for the Springboks due to apartheid boycotts, but the Western Province full back Ian McCallum and the Transvaal fly half Gerald Bosch made significant contributions with the boot with 62 and 89 points respectively in the 19 tests that were played during that decade.

Springbok rugby in the 1980s was dominated by the controversial fly half Hendrik Egnatius (Naas) Botha whose legendary kicking exploits led him to have professional trials with the Dallas Cowboys as their kicker in 1983-84. A lethal drop kicker who twice kicked three drop goals in a test match, he finished his career as Springbok captain against England at Twickenham in 1992 with 312 points from 28 internationals and a then world record 18 drop goals.

Although Joel Stransky, the Natal fly half, would win the Rugby World Cup for South Africa with an injury-time drop goal in 1995 and Botha's points tally would be exceeded and then substantially extended by the full back Percy Montgomery over the next fifteen years, it would be a few years before a Northern Transvaal fly half came to prominence in 2009.

Morné Steyn occupies a unique place in the history of Lions test series in South Africa. His overall record of 742 points in 68 test matches stands alongside any of the Springbok greats and his debut as a substitute fly half in the second test against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld in June 2009 was a sensation. Entering the field with twenty minutes to go, he scored ten points including a massive 53 metre penalty goal in the final minute which gave the Springboks a 28-25 victory after the British Lions had led for all but the last ten minutes of the match.

A distinguished career followed during which Morné Steyn scored all 31 Springbok points in a Tri-Nations victory over the All Blacks in 2009, was the leading points scorer at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand and played for Stade Français for seven years from 2013 to 2020. On his return to South Africa, he resumed his career at the Blue Bulls and such was his consistent form that, having not played international rugby since 2016, he was surprisingly recalled at the age of 37 to sit on the bench in the third test against the British and Irish Lions on August 7th 2021.

He entered the field for fly half Handré Pollard in the 67th minute and almost immediately kicked a 40-metre penalty goal from near the right hand touchline to level the scores at 16-16. In the 79th minute a Lions forward was penalised for not rolling away after being tackled and the resultant penalty was 35 metres out almost directly in front of the posts. History beckoned twelve years on from 2009 and Morné Steyn did not disappoint. He calmly struck the ball between the posts for a 19-16 lead and shortly after play resumed the final whistle went after Steyn had booted the ball high into the stands to end the match. There was to be just one more test appearance for Morné Steyn as a substitute against Argentina before he announced his retirement from test rugby in October 2021.


  • Against All Odds - Matthew Pearce (Burnet Media 2021)
  • The Legends of Springbok Rugby 1889-1989 - Danie Craven and Keith Clayton (KC Publications 1989)
  • Springbok Rugby - Chris Greyvenstein (Sable Media Pty 1995)
  • A Statistical History of Springbok Rugby - Teddy Shnaps (Don Nelson Publishers 1989)
  • World Rugby Museum match spreadsheets (Richard Steele 2021)

About the Author

A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005 and is the co-author of the RFU's 150th anniversary book England Rugby 150 Years.