In an extract from No Rules – The James Small Story, former Springbok centre Japie Mulder explains how they stopped All Blacks wing Jonah Lomu in the 1995 World Cup final.
Of course, a highlight of both of our careers was the 1995 World Cup, and particularly the final, where we had to check the momentum of Jonah Lomu.
I remember the silence that descended on us when we watched the All Blacks beat England in the Newlands semi-final, on TV in the Springbok team room. We were still in our Durban hotel as we’d beaten France at Kings Park in our semi the day before and hadn’t yet travelled up to Joburg for the final.
The room went dead quiet when Jonah Lomu ran over Michael Catt on his way to scoring one of four tries that day.
Springbok coach Kitch Christie didn’t hide his concern.
‘Jeepers boys, what are we going to do? We have a problem here.’
James just said, ‘Don’t worry guys, we’ve got this.’
When everyone left the room, and it was just myself and James, he said to me, ‘Bush, I will make sure Lomu always has to cut inside, we only have a problem if he is given space on the outside and goes around us because of his size and strength. When he comes in, he’s your problem and you will have to look after him.’
And that’s what James did. He did not allow Jonah to get an outside lane during the final at Ellis Park. There was just one occasion where Lomu nearly forced his way over in the corner and I managed to get him out.
We were all surprised when Kitch told us before the game to kick on to Lomu.
I remember saying, ‘Are you mad, that’s giving him the ball and we don’t want to be doing that.’ But Kitch explained that if we made Lomu turn with kicks we’d turn him into a different player. And he was right. James knew how to handle him.
On the way to the final, we played the Roger Whitaker song ‘If’. It goes ‘I don’t believe in If anymore …’ and says you mustn’t have regrets. James related well to that song and it also had a strong influence on my well-being upstairs. Even today, if my mates are at a party and they hear it they will phone me and make me listen to it. And it still makes me emotional.
My most memorable moment on a rugby field with James came shortly after the final whistle blew in that World Cup final. I ran out of the players’ circle towards the main grandstand. James had left the field late in the game and was the first guy I ran into. Ran perhaps isn’t the word. He flew into me and we hugged and celebrated together. He was the first teammate I embraced.
Those of us who started out in the amateur era, where you played hard but you also partied hard, battled a bit with professionalism. A few guys adapted to it quickly, but James and I didn’t. Eventually you realise that when you’re training twice a day you can’t get up to what you used to.
James returned to Joburg late in his career to play for the Lions and the Cats.
The Cats – made up of players from the Lions and the Cheetahs – were based in a hotel next to the Vaal River outside Vanderbijlpark. It was a nice hotel but there was nothing to do there and we lived on the sixth floor for four months. I’m convinced it was because we stayed there, in the middle of nowhere, that the whole Cats concept never worked. It was a nightmare, a mess.
I spent a lot of time with James, as he was in the room next door. I can’t tell you what we got up to, unfortunately, but let’s just say that those who say he was a creature of the night are 100% correct.
During that time, James asked me to drive with him in his new two-seater SLK convertible to Bloemfontein, where the Cats were playing on the Saturday. We drove with the car’s top down and got badly sunburned from sitting in the sun for four hours.
When we drove back on the Sunday morning we made sure the top was up. James drove really fast and we weren’t far out of Bloemfontein when we were stopped by the cops. James was driving at around 160-170km/h and we could have been in big trouble. Fortunately, though, we had a couple of Cats T-shirts to give to the cops, who probably recognised James more than they recognised me.
No Rules – The James Small Story, as told to Simon Borchardt and Gavin Rich, is available to order at jamessmall.co.za. Book proceeds will go to The James Small Trust, which provides James’ children, Ruby and Caleb, with financial assistance for their education.
Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images