In the fifth instalment of a new article series from the SA Rugby magazine team, WADE PRETORIUS reflects on a Test match that ignited his passion for the game.
They say you’ll never forget your first heartbreak … easy then that the Springboks losing 18-17 to France at Ellis Park way back in 1993 goes down as my most memorable match. Sure, the World Cup wins in ’95, ’07 and ’19 offer more in terms of pure, unbridled joy but this clash is one that always stands out.
It had everything. The Springboks, under Ian MacIntosh, were playing in Johannesburg and while I was visiting family friends in the city that week, we were deemed too young to be taken to the game. That didn’t matter much as our families huddled in front of the TV – children obviously relegated to the floor with few chairs on offer – to watch South Africa’s attempt to win the series after the first Test was drawn 20-20 in Durban.
This Bok side featured my childhood heroes, in particular Hennie le Roux and James Small in the backline and my first sporting icon, Uli Schmidt, in the pack.
The French touring side featured some standout names, too: Philippe Saint-André, Philippe Bernat-Salles, Philippe Sella and Thierry Lacroix were outstanding talents among the backs. Laurent Cabannes, Olivier Roumat and Philippe Benetton were standouts in the pack.
The match was an all-action affair … the Boks stormed out of the blocks and seemed to play the entire contest at a million miles an hour. Their handling was superb – or at least as my memories serve – and the forwards seem to run as backs (perhaps not tied down by the professionalism of gym programmes back in those days).
The French had no answer and soon trailed to a James Small try. The family erupted and rounds were poured …
The visitors were no walkovers and for all of the Springboks early dominance somehow found themselves a point back with little time left on the clock despite Theo van Rensburg’s fourth penalty of the evening.
The capacity crowed roared the Boks on, like the rest of the rugby-watching nation, as they threw the kitchen sink at the French. They attacked in waves, forwards again passing and offloading like veteran backline players.
With time running out, the Boks refused to be beaten and forced a penalty from a play that started behind the Springboks goalline. Van Rensburg would have a kick to win the match albeit some 49m away.
The crowd hushed as the Transvaal fullback lashed the ball … direction was no problem and it came within inches of sailing above the crossbar. The touch judges had to confer and correctly ruled the kick had missed.
There would be more to be played though as these were the days of injury time. Another few minutes to find a way to win. Injury time mirrored the clash as the Boks continued their desperate bid for victory. A heel against the head, a mad scramble for territory and a break by Jacques Olivier down the left wing.
Possession not secured and an turnover. And then a moment of madness. With time run out, Schmidt would throw and land a punch on Bernat-Salles. In the days before big-screen TVs and TMOs, he was merely cautioned despite blood streaming from above the Frenchman’s eye.
My hero, although not red-carded, fallen. My Springboks defeated. Tears flowed from my eyes. It is a game I have never forgotten.