Rugby World Cup – 1995 Tournament
The first tournament to be held in one country, Rugby World Cup 1995 was the first to feature South Africa following the end of their international sports boycott because of the apartheid regime. It was also one few people will ever forget.
South Africa, as hosts, adopted the slogan ‘one team, one nation’ as they sought to reunite a nation bearing the scars of 40 years of apartheid through a sport that had been seen as a white man’s game.
The Springbok jersey was a symbol of this, but the appearance of a frail 76-year-old black man, himself a political prisoner for 26 years on Robben Island, wearing the famous green and gold jersey bearing the number of the white captain changed that.
That man was, of course, President Nelson Mandela who, also sporting a Springbok baseball cap, presented the Webb Ellis Cup to South Africa captain Francois Pienaar to the delight of the capacity crowd at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The game on 24 June was trivial to such an occasion, but for the record South Africa had beaten New Zealand 15-12 after extra-time courtesy of Joel Stransky’s late drop goal, the score having been 9-9 at the end of normal time.
South Africa had opened the tournament with a 27-18 defeat of defending champions Australia – the most points anyone would score against them in the tournament – and never looked back with wins over Romania, Canada, Western Samoa and France.
Forty-five nations had taken part in the qualifying campaign for Rugby World Cup 1995, which would again involve 16 teams – England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Argentina, Italy, Japan, Tonga and the Ivory Coast joining the aforementioned.
The standout result from the pool stages was the 145-17 rout of Japan by New Zealand’s second string – the highest score and biggest winning margin in the history of the Rugby World Cup at the time.
Other records to fall were the number of tries by a team (21), the most tries by an individual (six by wing Marc Ellis) and the most points and conversions by an individual (45 and 20 by debutant fly half Simon Culhane).
Sadly the pool stages will also be remembered for a tragedy, a sixth minute tackle in the Ivory Coast’s encounter with Tonga in Rustenberg leaving their wing Max Brito paralysed following a neck injury.
The quarter-finals had a familiar look about them with seven of the big nations and Western Samoa, who proved their passage to the last eight in 1991 was no one-off.
France dominated in the final quarter to beat Ireland 36-12 in Durban, South Africa ended the hopes of Western Samoa 42-14 in Johannesburg and New Zealand overcame Scotland 48-30 in Pretoria.
The match of the quarter-finals though was the first meeting of Australia and England since the 1991 final; a game won 25-22 after Rob Andrew’s injury-time drop goal and one that saw Michael Lynagh became the first to reach 900 points in Test rugby.
Torrential rain had turned the King’s Park pitch into a lake for the South Africa-France semi-final, a match that would end 19-15 in the Springboks’ favour. If this match had been affected by the rain, the other semi-final was one to remember.
The match as a contest was over inside 10 minutes. A reversed kick-off saw New Zealand wing Jonah Lomu brush aside Tony Underwood, beat captain Will Carling for pace and then run straight through Mike Catt to score within two minutes.
Rugby, which would turn professional just two months after the World Cup, had a new star with Lomu scoring four of New Zealand’s six tries in their 45-26 victory in Cape Town.