Ed Morrison: My debt to Joel Stransky

Continuing our special series abridged from World Rugby TV interviews with Rugby World Cup final referees, we go back 20 years to South Africa's triumph against New Zealand and hear the thoughts of Ed Morrison on what was a momentous occasion for both the host nation and him personally.

Joel Stransky’s match-winning drop goal in extra-time of the final of Rugby World Cup 1995 had millions of South Africans jumping for joy. And Ed Morrison, by his own admission, was feeling pretty pleased inside too.

“It was 9-9 at full-time and I remember thinking then that I’ve got to keep my concentration levels up. I knew that I was mentally feeling tired and I thought to myself, my god, you imagine if I make a mistake now. I will always thank Joel Stransky, as I have many times for that drop goal, because it was right that the game was won by points (not a referee’s decision).”

Within seven seconds of getting the game underway the Bristol-born match official had to make his first decision: offside against the All Blacks from the first ruck of the game following Andrew Mehrtens’ short kick-off. The ensuing 100 minutes did not get any easier with a number of tough calls testing Morrison’s in-depth knowledge and years of experience.

“I was busy trying to keep out of trouble really," Morrison told World Rugby TV. "There was an occasion in the first half when I didn’t feel South Africa grounded the ball, I felt that Frank Bunce got under a guy. But when you look at the footage you can probably argue that he actually did bring the ball into contact with the grass so that was something that I reflected on afterwards. Nobody said anything because they won so I was lucky as well if you like.

“But the one thing about the role is if you start making decisions on things that you don’t see you’re going to be in trouble. At the end of the day being able to look myself in the mirror after the match is more important than what people think of me really.”

Bigger than the game

While the infamous pre-match fly over literally went over the aerospace worker’s head, “I knew nothing about the jumbo jet going over until my wife told me afterwards”, the significance of Nelson Mandela’s presence in the stadium – and the implications of a Springboks win - was certainly not lost on the self-effacing Morrison.

“I suppose deep down I never thought South Africa could win it because the All Blacks were so good at the stage with Lomu at the helm. But South Africa weren’t afraid of the All Blacks, I think they felt Mandela had something to do with this; they felt it was their right to win it on home soil with the probably the greatest political leader, of my generation anyway, on their side," he said.

“It was a result that was bigger than the game of rugby because it gave the populace something that they aspired to: coming together as a nation. Mandela just worked it beautifully.

“So I was pleased for them and sorry for New Zealand because I have huge regard for New Zealand, I love the way they play the game. But on this particular occasion it was very difficult not to say, ‘well done South Africa’. The desire they had to win was incredible.”