Siya Kolisi holds the Webb Ellis Cup aloft after the Boks beat England to win the World Cup at International Yokohama Stadium in Japan last year.     AP
Siya Kolisi holds the Webb Ellis Cup aloft after the Boks beat England to win the World Cup at International Yokohama Stadium in Japan last year. AP

The Glory of '95: What it takes to win rugby's biggest prize

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen Time of article published Jun 26, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG: The Springboks’ fighting spirit, their determination and hunger to be the best, and the players’ pride in the jersey is what got the team over the line in 1995, 2007 and last year in Japan to be three-time Rugby World Cup winners.

That is according to the two most recent winning captains, John Smit (2007) and Siya Kolisi (2019) as they reflected on Francois Pienaar’s 1995 trail blazers who’ll forever be remembered as the first Bok side to go all the way in the global showpiece.

It was this week 25 years ago that, against all the odds, the Boks under Pienaar shocked the world by beating the hot favourites, New Zealand, in the final at Ellis Park.

Twelve years later Smit led his team to glory, against England, in France - just a year after a season of poor results and calls from within SA Rugby for then coach Jake White to be dismissed - while last year in Japan Kolisi led his team to glory, again against all odds after disastrous 2016 and 2017 seasons when the Boks suffered humiliating and record defeats against the likes of the All Blacks.

More than 100 years of Bok pride and glory though cannot be erased and wiped out by just a bad season here and there and ultimately White came up trumps in 2007, while Rassie Erasmus, too, delivered the goods - just two years after taking what many would have said was an “ambulance job”.

In reflecting on the success of the 1995 team - just three years after the Boks returned to Test rugby after several seasons of being banned from competing internationally - Smit and Kolisi both spoke about the gutsiness and spirit of the Boks; the very elements that helped their teams across the line as well.

“I think like all the Bok sides, the 1995 and 2019 teams share that typical fighting South African spirit. The Bok side of ’95 were not the favourites, and neither were we in 2019,” said Kolisi about the parallels between the two squads.

“And we had to win every game after losing to New Zealand in our first match. We treated every game after that as a final and we had to beat very tough opposition on our way to winning the trophy.”

Smit, who watched the 1996 final as a 17-year-old in the stands at Ellis Park, said: “As a kid, what stood out for me was their determination, the look on their faces every time they lined up, but also this purpose that seemed bigger than just the game of rugby.”

Added Kolisi: “What stands out for me is the fighting spirit of that team. Even though they played at home they weren’t regarded as the favourites. They had to beat great teams to win that trophy - Australia in the opening game, a formidable France team in the semis and then Jonah Lomu and the All Blacks in the final.”

Smit called the class of 2007 a “special group”. “Even after 13 years it’s a little surreal to think back to that day and realise it actually happened. If anything, I feel a combination of pride and gratitude to have been a part of such a special group that allowed me to lead them.”

This week, as all the rugby-loving Bok fans looked back to 25-years-ago when history was made on a sunny June afternoon at Ellis Park, Smit and Kolisi, like so many, shared their most treasured memories of that triumphant day.

“For me it’s as clear as anything; sitting in the stands listening to thousands chant ‘Madiba’; that was something money could never buy. It was a changing moment in our history,” said Smit.

For Kolisi, it was what happened after the final whistle. “That iconic picture of the late president Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar chatting and then Francois lifting the Webb Ellis Cup is by far the most memorable image of the triumph.”


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