JOHANNESBURG - The rugby world knows how the Madiba Magic helped the Springboks to a World Cup win over the All Blacks in 1995, but only Eddie Jones and his 2005 Wallabies are aware of how the same great presence played a role in the Boks beating the Australians at the same venue.
Jones, a master storyteller, said he had a “fantastic” experience at Ellis Park, one he will no doubt relate to his England tourists as part of his “expect the unexpected in South Africa” speech before Saturday’s big series opener in Johannesburg. This is Jones’ tale, as he recounted it in Durban shortly after arrival on Sunday.
“Two weeks before, we had beaten the Boks in Sydney by about 30 points. We came here and it was Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday (the match was part of the celebrations). We were waiting for the bus at the hotel, it was late so we got a police escort. The police escort was going slower than the bus and we ended up getting to the ground 15 minutes before kickoff,” Jones said.
“We went out to warm up but after a few minutes a tribe (of traditional dancers) went through us so we headed back to the dressing-room only to find someone sitting in front of our dressing-room in a golf cart: Nelson Mandela. We could not exactly ask him to move, so we had to wait patiently before getting into the dressing-room (for a very brief talk).
“We were behind by about 20 points at halftime, we hadn’t adjusted to those ‘conditions’. That is the hallmark of a really good team, being able to absorb all those difficult things that you can’t control, and we were not good enough.”
Jones added that this was part of the charm of touring South Africa and that it was not for the faint of heart. “You have to be resilient and control what you can control, and the uncontrollable you have to let go and then get on with it,” he added. “You have to (be) ready for anything, mate.”
England will be duly preparing for a hostile environment and Jones says he welcomes it as part of the process of hardening up his team. “That is the great thing about it,” Jones said. “If you want to be a great team, you have to be able to do great things on great occasions and this will be the case with playing South Africa in the first Test of a series, where all the talk is about the Boks reviving with a new coach. So there is lot of high expectations of the Springbok side. And we are coming here to get back to winning ways.”