The Glory of '95: Francois Pienaar broke down 'terrible' provincialism
With the Springboks returning from isolation in 1992, Pienaar had to wait until the following year - already aged 26 - to wear the green and gold jersey.
And due to his success as captain of Transvaal - who won the Super 10, Lion Cup and Currie Cup in 1993 - Pienaar was brought in as a No 6 flank and skipper by new Bok coach Ian McIntosh.
The big question for the new Bok coach, Transvaal boss Kitch Christie, was whether to stick with Pienaar or opt for Western Province stalwart Tiaan Strauss to lead the Boks in the lead-up to the 1995 World Cup.
Strauss only led South Africa once, against the All Blacks in 1994, but he was one of the finest loose forwards of his generation.
But provincialism was rife, and Christie felt that he couldn’t have two major leaders in the side, so he decided to leave Strauss out of the World Cup squad entirely.
One of the younger members of the Bok set-up, lock (and sometimes loose forward) Mark Andrews believed Pienaar handled a tough situation well.
“(Provincialism) It was difficult, let’s not con ourselves! Provincialism was a terrible part of rugby, but it came about because of isolation and the guys playing against each other all the time,” the Natal star said this week.
“What happened was that each province became like a little country - it was basically like the Six Nations!
“But Francois saw the bigger picture and was very strong in trying to break down the provincialism thing and to get the guys to understand that they were playing for the jersey.
“He was the one who brought in the Springbok honour code... It was very much about making the Springbok jersey the pinnacle and not the provincial jersey.”
In the final against New Zealand, Pienaar was his resolute self, and at half-time - with the Boks 9-6 up - some of the skipper’s words to his players on the field were audible.
“We are playing here. This is where the men come out in us now, okay. Nou begin ons speel (Now we start to play) Let’s get quick second-phase ball so that we can go either side - fast second phase so that our backs can run,” the blond-haired No 6 said to his teammates at Ellis Park.
“In our line-outs, I will go to short line-outs as we are getting our ball there. If we have no other option, let’s drive it in. Backs, great game, great defence. C’mon boys, this is the World Cup!”
Andrews said that positive approach made the players follow Pienaar - who ended with 29 Tests before being dropped by coach André Markgraaff in 1996 - as a leader.
“The fact that he was very inspirational, and he never had a bad day If Francois had a bad day, you never knew about it. He was very aware of the psychology of the team.”