Today, 25 years ago, the Springboks and Canada squared off at the 1995 World Cup in a clash that would be dubbed ‘The Battle of Boet Erasmus’. ANDRE HUISAMEN remembers the chaos that ensued that evening in Port Elizabeth.
What should have been an encounter played under match-practice conditions turned into a forgettable bloodbath … literally.
Springbok head coach Kitch Christie rang the changes for his side’s final pool match after securing earlier wins over Australia and Romania. The Springboks were looking to try out a few new combinations before the knockout phase while their dominant pack gained further momentum.
Kick-off at the Boet Erasmus Stadium was delayed for almost 45 minutes due to a power failure, leaving the crowd dumped in complete darkness.
It further served to pump up both sides to come out roaring for what quickly descended into a physical slugfest.
After two powerful scrums, Adriaan Richter crossed the tryline twice before the interval to give the hosts a 17-0 lead.
The final 40 minutes failed to provide the same standard of dominance as the fixture deteriorated further.
First, Joost van der Westhuizen, who came on at wing as a replacement, got into a scuffle with Canadian eighthman Colin McKenzie after a brilliant tackle by Van der Westhuizen.
Moments later all hell broke loose as ‘The Boet’ turned into a boxing ring with multiple punches thrown by both sides.
Tensions exploded when wing Pieter Hendricks and his opposite number, Winston Stanley, started pushing and shoving after an off-the-ball shoulder charge by Hendricks on Stanley.
That prompted Canada No 15 Scott Stewart to run into the mix and strike Hendricks from behind, which had Springbok hooker James Dalton entering the fracas.
Dalton and Stewart sparked a massive brawl that got both teams involved and spilled over the advertising boards next to the field.
Eastern Cape-born Hennie le Roux also struck a vicious blow to a Canadian player, while lock Hans Strydom’s left eye was completely cut open from a punch.
In the end, referee David McHugh had no choice but to dish out red and, with it, an automatic 30-day suspension.
Dalton, Canada’s captain Gareth Rees and Rod Snow were singled out and sent off by McHugh, although more players from both teams could easily have received their marching orders.
That ended Dalton’s campaign but the Springboks were dealt a further blow the following week. Hendricks was cited and subsequently suspended for a total of 90 days for instigating the fight, which also concluded his World Cup.
Back on the field, the Springboks would go on to run out 20-0 victors. But, in the aftermath, huge debates about the violence erupted and what that meant for the rest of the tournament with Dalton and Hendricks suspended.
Chris Rossouw would be called up as replacement hooker, while the late Chester Williams was drafted into the team in place of Hendricks.
It would prove to be a historic momentum as Williams was the quarter-final hero against Western Samoa at Ellis Park, crossing the line for a record four tries.