CAPE TOWN – I had the great fortune of being in the press box when the Springboks won the 1995 World Cup. I was also there when the All Blacks won at home in 2011, but the one World Cup that will always be memorable is the 2007 World Cup in France.
I was there to report for Independent Media and SA Rugby Magazine, and the Boks were exclusively based in Paris. The only time the Boks left Paris was a day before a few group matches and the quarter-finals in Marseilles. The rest was spent in Paris.
The Al Blacks were the tournament favourites. They smashed everyone on their northern hemisphere tour the previous year, and they did it playing a different team every weekend. They’d destroy one team on a Saturday, make 14 changes and do the same to the next of one of the four home unions.
Everyone expected the All Blacks to win. So did the All Blacks, but if the All Blacks loved themselves, most of France did not like them. They were arrogant and awful as ambassadors.
The Boks were wary of the All Blacks, to the point that I always wondered if the boys ever believed they could beat New Zealand in the final. When France beat the Kiwis in the quarter-finals in Cardiff, there was as much relief within the Bok squad as there was celebration.
Bok coach Jake White recalls the boys being euphoric that New Zealand was out of the World Cup. He told me at the time that when he saw the reaction of his team to the All Blacks’ exit, he knew in Marseilles that the World Cup was the Boks to lose, and he never felt they could lose it, given the opposition in the play-offs would be Fiji, Argentina and an out of sorts England, who South Africa had beaten 36-0 in the group stages.
I published a book after the Boks’ 2007 World Cup win, which was based on all my Independent Media writing. It was entitled: Champions of the World, Seven Magnificent Weeks.
The Boks, in France, were the best team. They were the most conditioned and they were also the most popular. Most of France wanted the Boks to win when the French team was eliminated.
I am starting to get a sense 2019, in Japan, is 2007 in France revisited. The Boks have the look of a squad whose conditioning leads the way. They are a team who fears only one team, and that is the All Blacks.
And they are a team who will become the host people’s favourite when Japan gets eliminated.
New Zealand, because of the AIG sponsorship connection, arrived in Japan as the team most recognised outside of Japan, but the masterstroke of the Boks was to arrive in Japan a week ago and play Japan in an official warm-up.
The Boks are popular and they are quickly becoming the people’s team in Japan. More than 6 000 arrived to watch them train; which is more than the average Currie Cup match attendance this season.
The stars are aligned. So much points towards the Boks being successful, outside of their obvious popularity. In 1995 and 2007 the Boks played the defending champions in their opening match, won and went onto win the tournament.@mark_keohane
Independent Media Sport