It’s the second half of extra time, scores tied 12-12. The ball comes out of the scrum and is tossed into Joel Stransky’s hands, he knows where he is, he knows the importance of this moment in South African rugby history. Effortlessly he drop-kicks the ball between the posts and sends Ellis Park into raptures. South Africa are World Champions!
There are many reasons why this Rugby World Cup winning year was so significant. It was the first World Cup that South Africa had been allowed to compete in (after the end of Apartheid and our free elections in 1994) and most significantly it was being held on our home shores. We had home ground advantage and we had to make it count.
Going into that final on June 24th, 1995, South Africa had comfortably won their 3 opening group games followed by successful knock-out performances against Western Samoa and the infamous game against the French. Known to many as the Downpour in Durban, the game was played in torrential rain and a flooded pitch. South Africa emerged victorious and set up a date with the All Blacks. Led by patriotic captain Francois Pienaar and supported in the stands by President Nelson Mandela, it could be argued that South Africa weren’t favourites to win the final. New Zealand went into the game also unbeaten with both Jonah Lomu and Marc Ellis having already scored 7 tries each in the tournament, a then Rugby World Cup record.
After a grueling and titanic match, the Springboks emerged triumphant and the scene of Madiba, in his No.6 green and gold-trimmed jersey with matching baseball cap was a scene that would live on in the memory of South Africans for a lifetime. One down, how many can we get?
It took us 12 years to reach the Rugby World Cup final match once again. This time we were in France, the year is 2007 and now lead by the 50th captain this great nation had seen, John Smit. Little did he know at the start of the tournament he would be leading South Africa to their second World Rugby title.
As in 1995, a dominant and professional display saw the team top the pool table with 4 wins from 4. The most notable victory was the crushing and ruthless display that earned them a 36-0 mastery against the English in Paris. Now it was time to get excited that maybe it was our turn yet again.
Two comfortable victories in the Quarter and Semi Finals against Fiji and Argentina respectively matched us up with a reunion against an England team seeking revenge for the humiliation of our earlier demolition.
With the Webb Ellis Cup glistening with the reflecting stadium lights under a dark Saint-Denis skyline, it was time for South Africa to become Rugby World Cup Champions once again. Similar to the final against New Zealand, 12 years earlier, this would be a try-less encounter with both teams making use of their kicking game to attempt to overhaul their enemy. Ruthless kicking from Montgomery and Steyn sent the South African fans in the Stade de France into celebrations, along with the millions watching back home.
Just to show how hard it is to win a Rugby World Cup; it once again took three tournaments to get our hands on that golden winner’s trophy. There was a huge air of optimism going into the 2019 event, despite our opening game being against a strong All Black side. Rassie Erasmus had been appointed as Springbok coach in 2018 and brought in a new dawn to SA rugby. After a thrilling victory against New Zealand in Wellington and a first Rugby Championship victory since 2009, the scene was set for a repeat of Johannesburg and Paris.
Arguably it can be said that our first pool match loss to our Kiwi counterparts did us a favour. From there we went on to win the remaining three matches and sit second on the table. The draw from there looked more favourable than winning the group. A Quarter Final tie against hosts Japan was a beautiful game to behold. The sea of red and white home fans cheering on their proud country despite a loss was inspiring to say the least.
Then we got to that Wales game! A nerve-wracking, ugly game to watch, fans shouting at their televisions, why aren’t we playing real rugby? Rassie had a plan! He knew we had to beat them at their own game, and that we did. Triumphant by 19 points to 16, South Africa were in the Final once again!
Over 70,000 spectators packed into the International Stadium in Yokohama to see a South African hero and barrier breaking captain in Siya Kolisi lift the trophy once again! Even as the teams warmed up and the national anthems were sung you had a sense that the English may not fancy this one. The Springboks had saved their best rugby for these 80 minutes, and they were going to slay the English once again. Two tries in the final 15 minutes made the game safe and we were champions once more! South Africa had yet another Rugby World Cup win on their hands.
The victory emulated the All Blacks, both countries now having three World Cup Final victories to their names. Now we look forward to 2023 and see if we can avoid that 12 year wait once again and make it a historic fourth.
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