Former captain Francois Pienaar gives insight into the Springboks’ successful 1995 World Cup campaign.
On this day, 25 years ago, South Africa’s stunning World Cup run culminated in an equally stunning 15-12 win over the All Blacks with the Boks collecting their first-ever Webb Ellis Cup trophy.
Speaking on the 25th anniversary of the event, Pienaar said they only realised what they could achieve at the business end of the tournament.
‘Coach Kitch Christie named two sides before the tournament and all the players knew where they were going to play, and who would be missing out on the knockout stages,’ said Pienaar.
‘The “Battle of Boet Erasmus” [where the Boks edged Canada in a tough match but lost James Dalton and Pieter Hendriks to suspensions afterwards] almost broke the team, and I don’t think I showed the greatest leadership at the time to be honest.
‘As luck would have it, though, when we lost Pieter and James, we got Chester Williams back. He was the poster child for the RWC before the tournament, but got injured before the start.
‘Chester came in and told us that we were uniting the country. We were fairly isolated from the outside world in that we stayed in the team hotel, took the bus to training and back to the hotel. We were not really aware of what was happening outside, to be honest.
‘When Chester came in – and he was not a big talker – and told us what effects our performances were having on the psyche of the country, that was a massive boost to us.
‘Up to that stage, we had no idea how much it meant to the rest of the country, we were just focusing on getting through our games.’
Pienaar also eluded to that memorable final day, when the former South African president, the late Nelson Mandela, unexpectedly walked into the team’s change room to wish them luck for the clash with New Zealand.
‘On that day – it was scary. The emotional rollercoaster to get to the final, the fact that we were playing an All Black team which included Jonah Lomu.
‘On the day, we needed to focus on our execution. We did that. Before the time, Madiba walked into our change room. We did not know he was coming to visit us. It was so emotional, and it could have gone the other way. We had to calm the guys down after that.’
Pienaar believes they played the perfect match.
‘We had great discipline that day. Managing the margins was crucial. Looking back, we played well that day. Maybe the extra fitness counted in extra time.
He admitted that it was only perhaps himself and Bok coach Christie who believed they could win the tournament.
‘An important aspect at the time was the strength and momentum the Transvaal team [now the Golden Lions] of the time had.
‘They made up the bulk of the Springbok team that year and it helped maintained the momentum of the side. We managed [as Transvaal] to beat an All Blacks-laden Auckland team in 1993 and that gave us the knowledge that it is possible.
‘Coach Kitch and myself believed that we could win with the depth of our squad. We had some super players in our team.
‘That backline of ours was world class, but unknown to the world, and our pack was just as good. We had so many players that would – given focus and energy – be hard to beat.’
Pienaar also credited former Springbok coach Ian McIntosh for his role in preparing the team for what came in 1995.
‘A lot of people worked very hard to get the team ready in 1995,’ Pienaar added.
‘Our results were not the greatest at our return from isolation in 1992 and people could not quite understand why. The reality was that we all came from different team cultures and we needed to create one that united us as a team.
‘It actually started with Ian McIntosh. He was such a forward thinker in the game and he certainly laid down some solid principles that we could build on.
‘People such as Gysie Pienaar and Hennie Bekker as assistant coaches and Morne du Plessis as team manager also had great rugby minds.’
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