Did South Africa’s 1995 World Cup win unite a country? The easier answer to that would be to look at the Springboks’ success in the 2007 and 2019 editions and see if they made an impact there too.
Great stories in the world of sport have rarely transformed into success off the field for a nation. South Africa had just come out of the infamous apartheid era and the country’s leader at the time, Nelson Mandela, saw the game of rugby as a tool to foster racial unity.
Hosting the World Cup, the Springboks had already exceeded expectations during the tournament. South Africa’s run was thanks to their backs, who were consistent throughout and teams found them hard to break down, a template that would work for them 24 years later too, but with a much more efficient back row to boot.
Tournament favourites and inaugural winners New Zealand were the the other finalists. The All Blacks had, till then, steamrolled their opponents to get to the final. Jonah Lomu, all of 19, had become the talk of the tournament. The hulking Lomu would soon become a superstar and is widely regarded as among the greatest to play the sport.
The final, played at the iconic Ellis Park in Johannesburg, was packed to capacity. Despite the pressure on Francois Piennar and his men to bring the Webb Ellis Cup home for the first time, South Africa frustrated the New Zealanders with their measured approach.
Lomu’s threat was nullified. Joel Stransky majestic kicking could well be seen as the reason behind South Africa’s triumph but Ruben Kruger, Mark Andrews and scrum half Joost van der Westhuizen were the brains that blunted one New Zealand attack after another. One of the pivotal moments of the game saw Lomu effortlessly skip past two Springbok players but his mazy run was stopped by a brilliant tackle by Van der Westhuizen. Sadly, neither men are alive today.
Mandela too passed on, but not without leaving us with one of the defining images in sporting history – passing the trophy to Piennar at the presentation ceremony. South Africa had won the punishing contest 15-12. At least for one day, South Africa was united – at home, streets and everywhere else.
Watch Clint Eastwood’s Invictus for the cultural impact the Rugby World Cup win had on South Africa.
Till then, watch the video of South Africa’s famous win here: