The Glory of '95: 9 moments that defined the 1995 Rugby World Cup
HONESTLY, the entire Springbok team could easily make this list, such was their impact on the living memory of many South Africans and such are our biases.
And, yes, there will be a handful of Boks named below, but there were also other players from other nations that made the 1995 Rugby World Cup a memorable one, for better or for worse.
The foot of Thierry Lacroix and Les Blues fall inches short
The French flyhalf had his scoring boots on during the 1995 edition of the World Cup. Lacroix played a crucial part in the championship of the Five Nations of 1993, and moreover the French series triumph a year later in New Zealand.
In South Africa he was the top point-scorer of the tournament, slotting over 112 points as his unerring boot guided Les Blues to a third-place finish.
He was especially crucial in the semi-final against South Africa, scoring all 15 of France’s points through penalties on a heavily wet and sodden Kings Park field, keeping the French in the game.
Had Abdel Benazzi won just a centimeter or two more in the final moments of that match as he bashed his way towards the South African tryline, he and his teammates could well have met the All Blacks in the final.
And with their recent victories over the Kiwi’s, there would have been every chance of them winning the World Cup.
That Durban test will always be remembered for the image of groundsmen and women, sloping up the wet field and the agonising moment France just came up short.
The tragedy of Max Brito
It was a sad day when Ivory Coast and Tonga completed their match on June 3, after it was revealed that winger Max Brito had been left paralysed. The Ivorian winger had fielded a kick and went on the counter only to be tackled by Inoke Afeaki in the third minute of the encounter. The subsequent ruck, composed of several players, collapsed on Brito, leaving him motionless on the ground.
Brito was rushed off to Unitas Hospital in Pretoria and underwent operations to stabilise his vertebrae, but there was little the surgeons could do to save his mobility, leaving the Ivorian paralysed from the neck down. In 2007 it was reported that Brito could only move his head, torso and an arm, mostly leaving him bed-ridden and confined to a wheelchair.
His injury has since been called “The Greatest Tragedy in World Cup history,” and is a stark reminder as to why World Rugby in subsequent years have gone to great lengths in the laws to penalise any dangerous play.
Brito has referred to his injury as “his curse,” but in recent years has come to accept the injury, saying last May - according to an interview on www.42.ie, that: “I have managed to vanquish my handicap. When you accept what happened, you can move on. When you refuse to accept it, you can never find a way through.”
His aim today is to relaunch rugby in his home country and introduce the game to a new batch of young Ivorians.
The face of the Springboks
Chester Williams was not meant to play in the 1995 World Cup due to injury but the suspension of Pieter Hendriks after the Boks’ pool encounter against Canada and working off the aforementioned niggle, the winger was brought back into the squad.
He made his World Cup debut against Western Samoa in the quarter-finals of the tournament and proceeded to slice through the islanders, scoring four tries in the process. He would go on to play in the tense semi-final against France and the generation-defining final thereafter. But Williams’ impact was so much more than his on-field appearances.
As the only black player in the squad, he became the face associated with the team, galvanising the nation for the most part to root for the Boks. His image was plastered all over South Africa and when it comes to the politics of South African sport, especially rugby, his are the shoulders that other players have stood on.
Zinzan Brooke drops England a new one
Look, the semi-final between New Zealand and England will always be remembered for other spectacular moments - and we will get to those below - but for sheer audacity and skill, Brooke’s part in that match must be remembered fondly.
Fielding a kick in the All Blacks’ half during the encounter, the brilliant eightman took a few steps forward into the English half and dropped the ball onto his right foot, hoofing over a 48 minute drop goal that stunned the opposition and had many a rugby pundit snickering in appreciation.
Brooke recalled the drop-goal years later, saying: I used to practice all the time, I used to love kicking. Why is it that a flyhalf has to kick the ball? It should be the best person with the best ball skills, but thank goodness it went over …”
As a side note, Zizane’s brother, Robin, also played a part in setting up that marvelous memory.
James Dalton sees red
The Battle of Boet Erasmus was a terse affair, to put it mildly. And if you want to know where “Bullet” finally cemented his ‘Bad Boy’ status, it was during this match. The Boks’ encounter against the Canadians was delayed due to a power failure, so when the teams came onto the field for their first ever encounter, nerves were frayed - not helped further by the physicality witnessed in the match.
It all boiled over in the second half when Winston Stanley took umbrage when Peiter Hendricks shouldered him into touch. Ugly scenes ensued as a brawl broke out between the teams, started in earnest by a flying James Dalton who rushed into an equally guilty Scott Steward - the fullback of Canada - with both crashing over the advertising boards.
Three red cards were dished out by referee David McHugh - still a record for such action - including one for Dalton, who became the first South African to receive such a sanction. He was suspended for the rest of the tournament. Hendrick was also suspended, and after being convinced not to appeal his ban, opened the door for Williams to join the squad.
Mike Catt gets overpowered
The Englishman tasted World Cup glory in 2003 but will always be remembered as being one of Jony Lomu’s victims. In their World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks, Catt found himself in the inevitable path of a rampaging Lomu and felt the full force of the New Zealand wing when he got bulldozed as the wing went over him and onwards to score a memorable try.
The South African-born utility back said of the encounter: “I’d played in most of the games, but then along came the big man (Lomu) and he ran over Gavin Hastings, and then ran over me.
“I did everything right, other than Will Carling tap-tackling him and making him stumble towards me. The three times after that he just ran around me.
The man who changed Rugby
And speaking of Lomu, let’s take a moment to celebrate the big New Zealand wing.
He was the talk of the 1995 Rugby World Cup having crashed his way past Ireland, then smashed the Scots and finally dominated the English. The world of rugby had never seen a player like Lomu. He was built like a forward, but had the pace of a back that all added up to a player with unrivalled power and skill.
During the World Cup, one of the major talking points was how to stop the rampaging winger. Go for the legs, or tackle him head-on? None of the techniques seem to work on the big man. He was simply unstoppable and it was only in the final that he came up short in the face of a determined Springbok side.
Although he never won a World Cup, perhaps one of the greatest travesties to ever befall a player, he still shares the record for the most tries scored in the tournament with 15. But his legacy extends so much further - Lomu was the first true superstar of rugby and changed the face of the game. His legacy can still be felt today and his exploits in 95 are rightly lauded as some of the finest individual play the rugby world has ever seen.
Joel Stransky ...
The picture is now iconic - Bok scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen on one knee, his eyes wide, his mouth agape with distress, powering a pass towards Stransky. Behind him, the pack of Bok forwards rising from the melee that is the scrum, including enforcer Kobus Wiese, captain Francois Pienaar and a young Os du Randt, looking on in trepidation.
But with assured confidence, Stransky fields the perfect pass moments later, drops it onto his boot and snaps over the winning goal of the final, much to the delight of his teammates, the rapturous crows and a gleeful South Africa.
From every angle, Stransky’s match-winning drop is a joy to behold and could have been the defining and most memorable moment of the World Cup if it wasn’t for our No 1 entry ...
Nelson Mandela and Franscois Pienaar ...
Could it have been anything other than this iconic moment. To be sure, before the game even kicked off the Ellis Park crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy and were chanting Nelson Mandela’s name. It was a magical moment in its own right - to have a largely white crowd embrace the first democratically elected president of the country in such a manner - and is a testament to the power of sport to affect change.
But 1995 will always be remembered for the moment an ecstatic Madiba handed Pienaar the Webb Ellis Cup and then proceeded to pump his arms in the air with celebration. It still brings a tear to the eye, and an overwhelming sense of pride to the chest and for that reason alone it gets our top spot.