RWC 2015 Draw Spotlight - South Africa
SOUTH AFRICA ON THE RWC STAGE
When South Africa won Rugby World Cup 1995 it was not only a victory for the Springboks but for the whole of the newly christened ‘Rainbow Nation’.
Readmitted into the international sporting fold after decades of exile due to the oppressive apartheid regime, South Africa wasted no time in making their mark on rugby’s showpiece event.
Having missed out on the 1987 and 1991 tournaments, South Africa were granted host nation status in 1995 – an inspired move as it turned out, not only for the marvellous spectacle that followed but for the way the Rugby World Cup helped the country’s transition into a new era.
On the day of the final President Nelson Mandela chose to wear the Springbok jersey, regarded by some as the ultimate symbol of the regime that imprisoned him. It was a gesture that inspired the whole nation to move on to a brighter future, inspired the South Africa team to victory over the All Blacks, and eventually inspired the creation of a Hollywood blockbuster in the form of Clint Eastwood’s Invictus.
Outside the political ramifications of the tournament, there was certainly no shortage of drama on the pitch for the script-writers to consider. Having opened the tournament with a 27-18 defeat of defending champions Australia – the most points any one side would score against them – South Africa went on to record victories over Romania, Canada and Samoa on their way to a semi-final showdown with France. Torrential rain threatened the fixture in Durban but a monumental effort by the ground staff ensured the game went ahead and South Africa went on to win 19-15 in the worst conditions imaginable.
And so onto the first Rugby World Cup Final to be decided in extra-time. As was to be the case eight years later in Sydney, a sweetly struck drop goal from a fly half decided the destiny of the Webb Ellis Cup.
New Zealand and South Africa were locked at 9-9 after 80 minutes, forcing the kicking duel between Joel Stransky and Andrew Mehrtens to continue for another 10 minutes each way. Stransky ultimately had the final say, but it was the lasting impression of President Mandela presenting the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar, while wearing the green number six jersey, that will forever symbolise RWC 1995.
South Africa’s defence of the trophy four years later lasted until their semi-final exit at the hands of Australia. Initially based in Edinburgh, the Springboks had quietly gone about their business outside the main glare of the tournament. Wins over Scotland, Spain and Uruguay had hardly set the world alight, unlike flame-haired fly half Jannie de Beer whose record five drop goals in the quarter-final win over England is going to take some beating.
RWC 2003 was South Africa’s most disappointing tournament to date. The Springboks were beaten by England in the pool stage and eventually lost 29-9 to New Zealand in the last eight, the first Rugby World Cup when they hadn’t managed to make at least the semi-finals.
Jake White then presided over a wonderfully successful period for South African rugby, lifting the Springboks from number six in the world to number one, a run that also saw them become the second team, after Australia, to be crowned double world champions. Wing Bryan Habana was to be the star of RWC 2007, scoring eight tries – including four in one match against Samoa – as South Africa went on to beat England in the final having already thrashed the same opposition 36-0 in the pool stages.
After edging out Wales by the narrowest of margins (17-16) in their opening match of RWC 2011, South Africa went on maintain their ever-present record in the knockout stages with wins over Fiji, Namibia and Samoa. In the quarter-final against Australia they threw everything at the Wallabies, but to no avail.
South Africa were unable to convert their massive territorial and possession supremacy into a single try, and they went down to an 11-9 defeat. Despite exiting the competition prematurely South Africa’s goal kicker Morné Steyn still finished as the tournament’s top points scorer with 62.
Jannie de Beer’s ‘nap-hand’ of drop goals against England put South Africa into the RWC 1999 semi-finals. He holds the individual record for most drop goals in a RWC match. Twenty-one drop goals were struck during the tournament – two fewer than the record total, set four years later in Australia.
The Rainbow Nation comes alive - Winning Rugby World Cup meant everything to South Africa. The achievement of Francois Pienaar and his teammates stretched far beyond normal sporting boundaries. As the Springbok captain famously said on the Ellis Park pitch after referee Ed Morrison had blown the final whistle to signal a 15-12 win for the Boks, "We did not have 63,000 fans behind us today; we had 43 million South Africans.”
The Magnificent Seven - Where Chester Williams had been the talisman for the RWC 1995 win, it was fellow wing Bryan Habana who more than adequately filled the role 12 years later in France. The omens for success looked good as soon as the Eiffel Tower was coincidentally lit up in green and gold at the official opening of the fan Zone in Paris. South Africa coach Jake White had talked about taking ‘seven steps to glory’ on the eve of the tournament, and his side duly obliged by winning all seven of their matches on the road to glory.
Down and out, Down Under - The closed roof of the Telstra Dome put a metaphorical lid on South Africa’s RWC 2003 campaign. The quarter-final defeat to the All Blacks also brought an unsatisfactory end to Joost van der Westhuizen’s distinguished 89-cap career.
“When Nelson Mandela walked into the changing room wearing that Springbok rugby jersey, it was done. We had to win that game. Everybody expected him to wear a suit and tie. It changed the attitude and spirit of the team — and it changed the whole mindset of the nation.”- Chester Williams on ‘the Mandela effect’.
South Africa’s experienced starting XV in the RWC 2011 quarter-final defeat to Australia featured a collective 836 caps – the most capped line-up in the history of Test rugby.
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