Fitzpatrick: Lomu – our strength and weakness
As the most successful captain of the most successful team of all time, Sean Fitzpatrick knows a thing or two about winning.
A world champion just 16 days after his 24th birthday, Fitzpatrick went on to earn 92 caps for New Zealand, 62 of them as captain.
He experienced far more wins (74) than losses (16) as an All Black before a knee injury forced his retirement from the game 10 years after New Zealand first lifted the Webb Ellis Cup.
However that win on home soil in ’87 was to prove to be his only success on the biggest stage of them all, Australia in the ’91 semi-final and then South Africa in the final four years later denying him a second RWC winner’s medal.
Despite the heartbreak of losing in extra-time to the Rainbow Nation, the hooker looks back fondly on the ’95 tournament.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that we went into ‘95 as total underdogs, we were rated four or five in the world,” Fitzpatrick tells Total Rugby. “We had just lost to France for the first time ever in 1994; we lost a series two nil in New Zealand.
“We played unbelievable rugby all the way through the '95 tournament. We were hugely committed, the fittest and fastest team in the world and our injury run was pretty good. Unfortunately in the last week it all changed.
“The whole six weeks was an unbelievable experience. Before the final they (the South African public) treated us like gods.”
In the final, Jonah Lomu, who had become an overnight sensation for his four-try heroics in the semi against England, was made to look like a mere mortal, cut down time and time again by ferocious Springbok tackling and denied space at every turn.
Instead it was Joel Stransky who proved to the match-winner on the day, the fly half's extra-time drop goal sealing a 15-9 win for the Springboks.
“You know, when you look back on the experience we would have probably done things differently,” reflects Fitzpatrick. “We wanted to get back to Jo’burg to be amongst the atmosphere for the build-up but it just went nuts. Jonah had just become this megastar in the space of two days basically.
“We didn’t change the way we played in the final and that Afrikaner South African mentality kicked in and they tackled everything that moved. In saying that it was a great final; we hung in there all be it for a drop kick…
“I always say to Jonah, against England you were our greatest strength but unfortunately in the final you became our greatest weakness.”
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