Some kicks seem to have been destined for immortality be they penalty goals, drop goals or the now long forgotten scoring device called goals from a mark.
Whether the longest kick in international history was the Springbok Gerry Brand’s colossal drop goal to seal victory in the final minutes against England at Twickenham in January 1932; or the massive goal from a mark by the All Black Don Clarke five minutes from the end of a very close match to beat England and win the two-match series at Christchurch in June 1963; or the monster 70-yard penalty goal kicked by the Welsh full back Paul Thorburn against Scotland in February 1986, these players were nevertheless all full backs whose kicking prowess was an essential part of the reason they were selected for their countries.
Fly halves have also featured hugely in kicking records. Jonny Wilkinson of England kicked 36 drop goals, more than any other player in the history of international rugby; Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Sexton of Ireland secured two of three Ireland’s Grand Slams with crucial drop goals in 2009 and 2018; the All Blacks Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens and Daniel Carter could boot the ball formidable distances and kicked 597 penalty goals between them; and we should not forget the Springboks Naas Botha and Jannie De Beer, the fly half who kicked five sensational drop goals in the 1999 Rugby World Cup quarter-final to knock out England.
So who is believed to have kicked the longest goal in rugby history? Surprising though it may seem, none of the above players holds the record and nor does any other rugby international. That distinction is held by Ernie Cooper who, at the age of 17, kicked an 81-yard penalty goal to tie a match for his team, Bridlington School 1st XV, in the last minute against an Army XV on 19th January 1944. He took the kick from five yards in from the touchline and one yard outside his own 25-yard line. His kick cleared the crossbar comfortably and landed beyond the dead-ball line.
In adult life, Ernie Cooper went on to play for Bridlington, Scarborough, Headingley and Roundhay (when he lived and worked in Leeds), Hull and East Riding and York Unicorns. A great servant to Yorkshire rugby, he played his final game in January 1990 at the age of 64. He went on to be President of Bridlington Rugby Club from 2005 to 2015 and he led the 1st XV out onto the field in 2013 when they contested the RFU Junior Vase Final at Twickenham. The Guinness Book of World Records credits him with the longest kick in rugby history and one of Ernie’s cherished possessions was a postcard from Jonny Wilkinson that read “It must have been one hell of a kick”.
And for all those kickers who fancy themselves as having a big boot and breaking this record, just keep practising. In a newspaper article years later, Ernie Cooper self-deprecatingly said “I was a winger by trade who just kicked occasionally”!
- Newspapers: Hull Daily Mail, The Times, Yorkshire Post
- Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby – Chester, McMillan & Palenski (Hodder Moa Beckett 1998 – 3rd ed)
- History of Welsh International Rugby – John Billot (Roman Way Books, Cardiff 1999)
- The Springboks 1891-1970 – AC Parker (Cassell & Company Ltd, London 1970)
About the Author – A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has had a life-long love of sport. He has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005.