The Battle of Boet Erasmus
June 3, 1995
Canada and South Africa trudge off the field after a fiery affair
© PA Photos
South Africa's 1995 World Cup win is encapsulated in the picture of Nelson Mandela in a Springbok shirt with Francois Pienaar and the Webb Ellis Cup. Had they not won the final, the enduring image might have been of the tournament's night of shame three weeks earlier.
Boet Erasmus stadium was the setting for scenes of disgraceful violence as the host nation was shaken up by the feisty minnows of Canada. It remains the only Rugby World Cup match in which three players have been sent off, and several more might easily have been dismissed along with James Dalton of South Africa, Canada's captain Gareth Rees and Rod Snow.
South Africa's apparent pre-match complacency was evident in their selection of a second string team and the comment from their coach, Kitch Christie, that "after Saturday, we'll get serious". As underdogs, they had beaten Australia in the tournament opener. Romania had been seen off by both sides but Canada's Corinthian squad would never offer a walkover. A surprise result here would have dumped the hosts from their own party.
Rees announced Canada's approach in advance. "We're not a particularly good side, but in the physical confrontation we're hoping to set up a battle, and to win it. Nothing illegal. Just good old confrontational rugby in which the game can be won or lost." Motivated by the possibility of upsetting the odds he continued, "If they feel they'll walk all over us, then as captain I'm delighted. We'll find out if they've made a mistake."
Floodlight failure delayed the start of the match by 35 minutes, raising the tension all round. Nevertheless, for 70 minutes a good, hard game of rugby entertained the 31,000 spectators. Canada were strong in the loose, the running-handling style of their forwards testing the Springboks' mettle.
Only in the set-piece were South Africa superior, twice in the first half driving the Canadians back over their own line from five yard scrums for No.8 Adriaan Richter to score. With Joel Stransky converting both tries and a first half penalty, the teams turned around with South Africa comfortably ahead, 17-0.
Canadian resilience remained strong after the break. They spent long periods camped on the South African line, at one point opting for five consecutive close range scrummages as South Africa conceded penalties, but finished unrewarded. A touchline scrap between Canuck No.8 Colin McKenzie and replacement scrum half Joost van der Westhuizen resulted in another Stransky penalty, the only second half score.
Then the match exploded. Pieter Hendriks, Springbok understudy for Chester Williams on the wing and his opposite number, Winston Stanley, tussled their way into touch, the latter being shoved though the advertising hoardings. Referee David McHugh was on hand and that should have been that. But Canada's fullback Scott Stewart charged in from some distance and struck Hendriks from behind.
"Instantly," reported David Miller in The Times, "a red-hot rugby match had become a boiling saloon bar free-for-all. All that was missing were the broken chairs."
Rod Snow and South Africa's James Dalton walk off the field © PA Photos
Hendriks, Kobus Wiese and Hennie Le Roux went wild with fist and boot. The Canadians responded in kind, savage blows forcing Hannes Strydom to leave the field with blood pouring from his face. It was frenzied stuff, way beyond the control of the referee's desperate whistle blowing and arm waving. Le Roux, in particular, let fly some fearsome punches and was lucky to escape punishment.
Replays suggested that any number of players could have been sent off,
Dalton, Rees and Snow seemingly being picked at random by the referee, given their marching orders and 30 day suspensions. Hendriks, for kicking, and Stewart, as the originator of the brawl, were cited the following day and later suspended for 90 and 60 days respectively.
In the aftermath, Rees defended his actions, saying: "I don't regret getting involved. I regret getting sent off, but I don't think I disgraced myself. We're a very tight team. The guys love each other."
Canada were out of the tournament; South Africa had the knock out stages to consider in light of potential suspensions and immediately set about protesting their innocence and apportioning blame elsewhere. Pienaar claimed, "If referees don't look after your team-mates, then you must look after your team-mate," then adding his bid to retain the services of his hooker, Dalton, "He never threw a punch. He's innocent and I'm sure he will get off."
Kitch Christie pinned the blame elsewhere. "You have to blame the third guy who came into the tussle. It was he who started the whole incident", he said, referring to Scott Stewart.
An unedifying night for all concerned temporarily took the shine off the tournament. South Africa's progress past Samoa, France and finally New Zealand to win the Rugby World Cup at the first attempt ensured that the events of Boet Erasmus were consigned to history.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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