It’s fair to say that Grant Fox revolutionised kicking in the modern game; one of the first to popularise the ball sitting forward on the tee, as well as having a recognisable routine, his style is common place in the game today.
While his kicking exploits were notorious through the 80s and 90s, it was at the inaugural World Cup in 1987 that Fox’s abilities would shine. New Zealand won the tournament comfortably with a team that included such greats as Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Jones, John Kirwan and Zinzan Brooke, to name but a few. Fox was instrumental in guiding them over the finish line, scoring a still unbeaten 126 points throughout the competition, all from his boot.
Roll forward to 1989, and New Zealand were touring Canada and Europe, with Grant Fox still out to cross the whitewash for his first international test try. Before the 18th November had rolled around, the All Blacks had played and won eleven matches, of which one was a comprehensive dismantling of Wales at the Arms Park in Cardiff.
On the 18th November, they were set to face Ireland at Lansdowne Road.
This fixture is perhaps most famous for its pre-match exploits. In an attempt to turn the psychological advantage garnered from the Haka away from New Zealand, and to invite the crowd to applaud their own team rather than bestow any honour on the opposition before the game had started, Willie Anderson and his side would link arms, and advance towards the challenge. They wanted to intimidate the New Zealanders, and by the end they had every chance of having done so, with their players face to face with those All Blacks in the front lines.
It had no effect on the score. Ireland would suffer the same fate as Wales had two weeks previously, New Zealand finishing with 23 points to Ireland’s six.
But for a ballboy, it could have been more.
The roar through the Irish crowd was intense. The men in green had a line out within their own 22. Everyone was oblivious to the linesman on the far side of the field.
The line out was scrappy, Ireland were immediately put under pressure. On the back foot. A superb counter ruck from New Zealand and they come away with the ball.
Grant Fox is gliding around the ruck from right to left when he receives the ball from Graeme Bachop, but checks himself; the Irish forwards are also sweeping round behind the ruck. He accelerates to the blind side.
Craig Innes switches back in field from the right wing and the defenders set themselves. Fox dummies, and in a wide arc, glides around the Irish hooker Steve Smith.
With nothing but grass before him, he cantered over the try line and touched down in the corner. His first test try for New Zealand.
There was commotion brewing, however. Whistles and jeers rang around Lansdowne Road. The referee nonchalantly strolled his line back from the point at which the try was scored.
Then, a tug at his arm.
A ball boy on the far side of the field had questioned why the linesman had not interjected; after all, New Zealand had scored a try despite the infringement for which he raised his flag. His reply suggested he couldn’t, at which the crowd behind the both of them suggested the ball boy should take matters into his own hands.
He did indeed.
Maintaining his composure (and grip on his bucket and magic sponge), he set across the field to invite the referee to consult with his fellow official. The pair came ambling back across the field, and the stir of the crowd dropped in anticipation of the referee and his assistant’s deliberation.
The eruption of sound from the crowd was deafening as the referee turned and waved the players back. Sean Fitzpatrick had stepped onto the field when throwing into the line out in the period of play before line out that yielded the try had taken place.
The try was chalked off, Grant Fox would continue his wait for his first test try for New Zealand.