Mark Andrews' fortnight in hell
The stress of the last fortnight of the World Cup, which had seen him make the seismic shift from his comfort zone in the second row to unfamiliar No 8, had drained him to the point of collapse.
Twenty-five-years on, Andrews explains: “So I am 22-years-old, still fairly new to Test rugby, and the day before the final against the All Blacks we are on the bus going to Ellis Park for our last practice and the newspaper posters on the lamp posts are screaming: ‘Will Andrews cost us the World Cup?”
The excruciating pressure on Andrews had, in fact, started the week before, in the semi-final against France. Kitch Christie had had a selection quandary. Hannes Strydom had been injured but was fit for this game and Kitch wanted to play him with Kobus Wiese in the second row, but Andrews was too good to be dropped. And moving him to No 8 (for Rudolf Straeuli) would also give him an extra lineout option and more weight in the scrum.
It meant the Boks had a monster pack: Strydom weighed 118kgs, Wiese 128 and Andrews 114kgs.
“Also, Kitch liked doing the odd thing differently,” Andrews recalls. “I don’t know what the French thought about me moving to No 8, but Ian Jones (one of the All Blacks locks in the final) later told me they could not work out what I was doing at No 8 because they thought I was a much better lock that I would ever be at eighth man.”
Andrews would concur!
“Before the France semi, I was absolutely terrified. That is the truth. Not only would I be playing No 8 for the first time since Under-15 at school but I would also be up against Abdulatif Benazzi, one of the most formidable No 8s in the world.
“I was so nervous I kept going on walkabouts during that rain delay. Incidentally, I will never forget a discussion I overheard while I was pacing around. I had strayed around the corner to the area reserved for the referee, and he (Derek Bevan) was in heated discussion with the tournament director, the chairman of the IRB and (Sarfu president) Louis Luyt ...
“We were very aware that if the game didn’t go ahead we were out of the World Cup because of our inferior disciplinary record, and here I was eavesdropping on Louis dictating to them in no uncertain terms: ‘Gentlemen, understand me, there is no debate about cancelling this game. It will go ahead even if it is at midnight. Get that into your heads. There will be a riot in this country if this game does not happen.’
“And I remember thinking: ‘Jeepers I am glad he is on our side.’ He was an intimidating guy and he steamrolled everyone. It is quite possible that Louis’s personality saved us from a World Cup exit.”
Andrews says he got away with playing out of position because the conditions tightened up the game and he was spared being exposed had it been an open, running game.
He was retained at No 8 for the final and in fact acquitted himself admirably. So let’s cut to the final whistle ...
“I was overwhelmed when the whistle went. I burst into tears. The pressure on me over that last fortnight had been immense. I had gone into that World Cup believing I was one of the best locks in the world and I wanted to prove myself against the best locks in the semi-final and final. Had I stayed at lock I would have been in my element. Instead, it was the most stressful two weeks of my career.
“But I will never forget leaving Ellis Park in the bus with the Cup, we must have had 20 police cars and bikes surrounding us on the highway back to Sandton, with a convoy of cars behind us with fans hanging out windows waving flags and hooting.
“We were being chased! It was like a movie scene... And when we arrived, there were these armoured cars and police with inter-linked arms trying to create space for us to get into the hotel.
“It only sank in then what we had achieved. But emotionally and physically, I was broken. I could not take any more....”
Independent on Saturday