Springbok captain John Smit hoists the Webb Ellis Cup after beating England in the 2007 World Cup final. Photo: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

JOHANNESBURG - It was the 42nd minute and England had won a line-out just inside the 10m line of South Africa from a rather mediocre kick by Bryan Habana.

Perhaps Habana was somewhat distracted in the peripheral by the shenanigans of serial streaker Jimmy Jump, who had invaded the pitch mere moments before. As Jump was lifted away by a bevy of security guards, both sides lined up at the first set-piece of the second half.

England hooker Mark Regan threw in a standard restart, duly collected by the pod-lifted Simon Shaw. A maul ensued but an uncompromising Springbok defence halted its momentum, forcing the English to go wide.

They did so through a poor, undulating pass from scrumhalf Andy Gomarsall, who, chucking the ball wildly, missed the intended centre Mike Catt. The ball sputtered and bounced kindly for Catt’s midfield partner Mathew Tait, who collected it on the halfway line. The outside centre, spotting a half-gap, broke through the attentions of three Bok defenders and sped past the 10m line, sidestepping Percy Montgomery on the 22, slicing past Habana two metres short of the 5m line before a desperate tackle by Bok legend Victor Matfield - a metre short of the tryline - put paid to his heroics.

But the English weren’t finished - a quick recycle from the ruck by Gomarsall spread the ball blind-side and out wide, where Mark Cueto dived for the corner flag as a frantic Danie Rossouw tackled him.

The partisan English support in the 81 000-capacity Stade de France, heaved with excitement and untamed jubilation, convinced that their team had scored. Irish referee Alain Rolland was skeptical, however, and called upon TMO Stuart Dickinson, querying “if there was any reason he could not award the try, please?”

For close to three minutes Dickinson viewed and reviewed the footage, rocking it back and forth between frames to adjudge if there was any part of Cueto that had touched the sideline as he crashed over the tryline. Discontent grew in a now vexed crowd.

Dickinson decreed that Cueto was in touch, by the smallest of extremities of his foot, disallowing the try. At the time, the English were playing under an advantage, which Jonny Wilkinson would slot over as a penalty to cut the Boks’ lead to 9-6.

Friday, marks the 10th anniversary of that controversial decision during the final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. In hindsight and after multiple viewings, Cueto should have been awarded the try and such were the fine margins, that on the day, another TMO might well have given it.

The Boks would go on to win the showpiece 15-9 to be crowned World Champions for a second time, but who knows if that overturned try would have altered the history of the game in England’s favour.

For coach Jake White - aided smartly by current Bok coach Allister Coetzee - lifting the Webb Ellis Cup vindicated an often tumultuous tenure, albeit a successful one, and also healed the deep wounds of the Kamp Staaldraad 2003 World Cup.

Springbok coach Jake White celebrates with Bryan Habana. Photo: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh
Springbok coach Jake White celebrates with Bryan Habana. Photo: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

I recall 2007 fondly, even though there are arguments that the Bok rugby employed was akin to watching paint dry, and the path to championship victory an easy par course that seldom taxed White and his men.

For me, 2007 represented South African rugby’s last great achievement. This is not to say that the Boks historic 30-28 victory in Carisbrook, sealed by a diving Ricky Januarie a year later, or the Tri-Nations championship and a British and Irish Lions series victory, both in 2009, were not triumphs, but after winning in 2007, those realisations seem self-contained and an extension of what was achieved in France. SA rugby then, seemed to be on the cusp of dominating the game for years to come, evolving with the game due to the expertise and experience of now legendary players.

Instead, we have watched a steady decline in our fortunes, with much pandering from those in charge that we will soon return to greatness.

But the truth is, we haven’t beaten the All Blacks since 2014, and since our last title in 2009, we have only done so twice in 17 matches. Our Australian record is not much better, though much more even, but if you consider their current woes, we should be dominating those encounters. The last time we managed to beat them on their home turf was in 2013.

Currently, the Boks have not won in four games, only beating an abject France and confused Argentina this year. The build-up to the World Cup in 2007 had a similar malaise about it but there always seemed to be hope, which these days seems in short supply.

The dichotomy between the two years - 2007 and 2017 - cannot be more stark. In 2007 to the day, we were celebrated as world champions. Ten years later, we are celebrating nearly, almost, oh-so-closely beating the New Zealanders.

The Star

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