South Africa's triumphant homecoming
Francois Pienaar and Hannes Strydom celebrate South Africa's World Cup victory
© Getty Images
World Cup No. 3
May 25 - June 24, 1995
Hosts: South Africa
Sixteen national sides mustered in South Africa for the third Rugby World Cup - and the first to be hosted by one nation - in May 1995. There were 32 matches at nine stadiums which included some of the game's most famous venues such as Ellis Park, Newlands and Loftus Versfeld. The teams were arranged in four pools of four teams with representation from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Teams played each other in a league format in the pool stages, and were awarded three points for a win and one for a defeat. The top two nations of each pool advanced to the quarter-finals, with a pool-winning side matched against a runner-up from a different pool - followed by two semi-finals, a third/fourth place play-off and the final.
England had won the Grand Slam under captain Will Carling earlier in the year and were regarded as favourites or joint-favourites with the southern hemisphere powers. The media at large voiced concerns about the crime rate in South African cities and no one knew quite what reception the so-called Rainbow Nation would give to a rugby tournament so soon after the end of the hated apartheid regime. However, the hosts, South Africa, were taking part in a World Cup for the first time after their official re-admission to the worldwide rugby family in 1992, and were bound to put up a huge challenge to take the title of world champions which many in the Republic had claimed for themselves in the long years before and during their sporting isolation.
Most of the doubts were dispelled by the rapturous reception given to the third Rugby World Cup by a multi-cultural crowd at the opening fixture in Cape Town. The fact that South Africa kicked off Pool A by defeating the holders, Australia, at Newlands, certainly helped. Joel Stransky, the fly-half, kicked 17 points in a foretaste of later success. Both teams would qualify for the quarter-finals. The All Blacks rampaged through Pool C in which a dire deciding match between Five Nations rivals Ireland and Wales went the way of the Irish. England's mostly first-choice line-up laboured to narrow wins over Argentina and Italy before seeing off Western Samoa 44-22 to win Pool C. And France pipped Scotland 22-19 to edge Pool D, the same pool in which a tragic injury occurred to Ivory Coast wing Max Brito while playing against Tonga which left him paralysed below the neck.
Jonah Lomu's performances in the pool had marked New Zealand as the team to beat and they duly hammered Scotland 48-30 in Pretoria. The Springboks had lost hooker James Dalton and wing Pieter Hendriks to suspension after an all-in fight in the pool win over Canada but held off a highly physical challenge from Western Samoa to get through to the last four. There the hosts defeated France in a semi-final in stormy Durban which only narrowly escaped being rained off. The French had comfortably disposed of Ireland in their quarter-final, while the most exciting match in the last eight was England's nerve-jangling 25-22 win over their 1991 conquerors Australia, settled by Rob Andrew's dropped goal in Cape Town. The semi-final was an entirely different story as Lomu put four tries past England in a stunning individual performance as the All Blacks won 45-29, again in Cape Town.
The final, played at Johannesburg's Ellis Park under clear blue skies - and a passing South African Airways jumbo jet bearing the words 'Good Luck Bokke' - pitched the hosts against the favourites. England's Ed Morrison refereed South Africa against New Zealand on June 24 in front of 65,000 spectators, and the All Blacks' running flair met the superb organisation and will to win of the side coached by Kitch Christie, managed by Morne du Plessis and captained by flanker Francois Pienaar. The Springboks devised a plan to deal with Lomu long before 'rush defence' become a vogue expression, with two or three tacklers ganging up on the huge wing and denying him any space. There were no tries in the first five-point-try World Cup final; instead the scores were tied 9-9 after 80 minutes, with two penalties and a dropped goal each by Stransky and the 22-year-old New Zealand fly-half, Andrew Mehrtens. Each man kicked a penalty in the first half of extra time then Stransky dropped a goal with eight minutes remaining. A dangerous-looking pass to Lomu from New Zealand No 8. Zinzan Brooke - who had dropped a goal against England - failed to stick and South Africa won 15-12.
Player of the tournament
The quietly authoritative captaincy of Francois Pienaar was a big factor in South Africa's victory, and the wing Chester Williams's four tries in the quarter-final was an extraordinary personal achievement. Williams had been omitted from the original squad with a hamstring injury but benefited from the slightly dubious regulation that a suspended player could be replaced when Hendriks was cited and banned after the Canada punch-up. But Lomu, who had turned 20 just before the World Cup, was the star. He had revealed some of his unique talent previously at the Hong Kong Sevens but was dropped by New Zealand after his debut against France in 1994. On the hard grounds of South Africa the Tongan-descended, 6ft 5in colossus ran riot. Big wings had been seen before but Lomu broke the mould. He bounced off would-be tacklers with ease and turned innocuous looking situations into outrageous tries. Aided by the clever openside flanker Josh Kronfeld and centre Frank Bunce, Lomu shattered England with four tries in the semi-final, famously running over Mike Catt and swatting off Tony Underwood along the way. He was termed 'a freak' by Will Carling but the world hailed a new sporting hero.
Frozen in time
New Zealand's final defeat - blamed by some on an unsubstantiated claim that some of their players suffered food poisoning due to dodgy practice at the team hotel - took some of the gloss off Lomu's legacy. Stransky's nerveless dropped goal to win the Webb Ellis Cup might have lived on in the same way as Jonny Wilkinson's would do in 2003. But when Pienaar, the openside flanker (who in South Africa wears the No 6) was presented with the trophy by the country's president Nelson Mandela - wearing an identical green Springbok jersey - an iconic image was created which will recall forever South Africa's World Cup.