Awarding tournament hosting rights to South Africa was a bold move by the International Rugby Board (IRB) but it was one that paid dividends – not only for the marvellous spectacle that followed but for the way Rugby World Cup 1995 united a nation long divided by the apartheid regime.
It was the first time in three editions that the tournament had been played exclusively in one country, in every sense of the word, as the South African people came together under the ‘Rainbow Nation’ banner to cheer on the Springboks, once a symbol of hatred to the majority of the population.
When the South African players took to the field for their opening game against defending champions Australia, they would not have dared to dream that, exactly a month later, they’d be the ones holding the Webb Ellis Cup aloft.
“This is a magnificent occasion, the biggest game probably in the history of the game. You’ve got two potential winners of the World Cup in South Africa and Australia. Will they meet again in the final?” pondered TV pundit Gareth Chilcott, moments before Wallabies captain Michael Lynagh kicked off proceedings in Cape Town, against an incredible backdrop of noise.
World Cup winner Joel Stransky believes Siya Kolisi holding aloft the #WebbEllisCup could have a similarly positive effect on the Rainbow Nation as when Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela shared the podium in 1995#ENGvRSA LIVE from 22:00 at https://t.co/nV95q5Y2sL #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/VLVeSxheQR— sparknzsport (@sparknzsport) November 2, 2019
After a slow start, the emotional charge inside Newlands eventually ignited the Springboks and they bounced back with a beautiful-worked try for Pieter Hendricks (pictured) to lead 14-13 at the break.
An ageing Australian outfit ran out of steam in the second half, and inspired by a stellar performance from Joel Stransky, South Africa emerged comfortable 27-18 winners.
“I remember (coach) Kitch Christie saying (about the opening game), it was either the high road or the low road. We beat Australia so it was the high road to the final,” said Ed Griffiths, the marketing mastermind behind the tournament’s success. “I think people forgot how we were definite underdogs. It was a great opening. I just remember having a sense of relief that we got through it.”
Now World Rugby is giving rugby fans the chance to relive South Africa's first-ever Rugby World Cup match via its free-to-access streaming service.
Following further pool wins over Canada and Romania, South Africa saw off Samoa in the quarter-finals before beating the weather and France to make it through to the final at the first attempt.
After an excruciatingly tense 80 minutes, the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand went to extra-time where Stransky decided the destiny of the Webb Ellis Cup with a sweetly struck drop goal.
Stransky may have had the final say, but it was the icon image of President Nelson Mandela presenting the trophy to Francois Pienaar in the green number six jersey that will forever symbolise RWC 1995.
South Africa v Australia is the first of four classic Rugby World Cup matches being shown by World Rugby this Easter weekend.
- Saturday, 11 April – Japan v Scotland, RWC 2019 – 13:00 BST and 19:00 BST
- Sunday, 12 April – Fiji v Argentina, RWC 1987 – 16:00 BST
- Monday, 13 April – England v Australia – RWC 2010 semi-final – 19:00 BST