By: Grant Fisken
Johannesburg was the scene this week for the 20th anniversary of one of the most memorable moments in sporting history, let alone the 28 years of the rugby union World Cup. On the 24th of June 1995, Joel Stransky kicked the drop goal in extra-time that beat New Zealand and secured the Webb Ellis Cup for the Springboks, and led to one South Africa’s most iconic post-apartheid moments.
The fact that South Africa were even hosting the World Cup that year was a significant milestone for a country that had been banned from even entering the first two stagings of the tournament. It was their first post-apartheid major sporting event, and began with the hosts beating Australia 27-18 in Cape Town. The perfect start for the Springboks, but they were not overly convincing in their other two pool matches, with narrower than expected victories against Romania (21-8) and Canada (20-0).
A convincing quarterfinal win against Western Samoa set up a semifinal versus France, in a match that South Africa almost lost without kicking a ball. Torrential rain and thunderstorms in Durban meant the match was delayed, but if it had been called off France would have progressed to the final on having a better disciplinary record. As it was, women with brooms brushed the water off the pitch, the match began and the hosts eventually prevailed 19-15.
Ellis Park, Johannesburg, was the setting for the final against New Zealand, and the scene for events that would be immortalised in the Hollywood film Invictus. Rugby had long been considered a white sport in the country, and felt by the black population as one of the strongest symbols of apartheid, so the sight of president Nelson Mandela coming on to the pitch in a green Springboks jersey to greet the teams before kick-off stunned the 62,000 crowd into a temporary disbelieving silence, followed by cheers of support.
Stransky’s extra-time drop goal to seal the 15-12 win for the hosts added to the drama and emotion of the day, that concluded with Mandela presenting captain Francois Pienaar with the trophy, both still wearing their Springboks shirts. The reunion twenty years on was missing Mandela, coach Kitch Christie and flanker Ruben Kruger, all having since died, but highlights the pressure the 2015 South Africa World Cup team will have with all that history behind them, something the 2007 vintage coped with by going on to win the trophy in France.
South Africa (5/1) are currently third-favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in October, behind New Zealand and hosts England. Those odds may change after next month’s Rugby Championship as they face the All Blacks, Australia and Argentina, although it is a reduced tournament this year with teams playing each other only once to allow for more World Cup preparation time.
There is one statistic the Springboks will surely have to change if they are to add a third Webb Ellis Cupto their collection. Since their victory as hosts in 1995 they have failed to beat Australia or New Zealand at the World Cup.