The Glory of '95: A Durban deluge, an arm wrestle and a sigh of relief
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WHAT was it like being in that openside stand at Kings Park on that afternoon of the 1995 World Cup semi-final being South Africa and France?
It was just a few months before I began my career as a rugby writer and I was a paying spectator.
I have lived in KwaZulu-Natal all my life and at that point I was living some way down the south coast, 35 minutes from Durban. In this part of the world, the rain sweeps northwards up the coast towards Durban and I recall leaving Amanzimtoti with my mate, Brian Stevens, early in the day and at our backs were the darkest, heaviest clouds I can ever recall.
We knew it was going to rain heavily later in the day when we hit the city, but where was this coming from? For heaven’s sake this was Durban in June. It never rains in mid-winter in this part of the world ...
It was like nature was making up for all the Junes in history where there had been no rain. It was a freakishly heavy downpour, and as we hit the city we were ploughing through a foot of water on the roads.
The stands in the stadium were quite a sight ... a multi-coloured patchwork quilt of 55 000 umbrellas was some spectacle. But whatever cover fans had was close to useless, because the rain was driving across the stadium, not coming directly down.
It was like a blanket of water was being blown across the stands. It was difficult to find cover in the pubs for liquid solace, because everybody had the same idea and you couldn’t get into them, so you sat and sucked it up.
There was an announcement that kickoff would be delayed for an hour after there had been a brief respite in the rain, and the speculation around the ground was that air force helicopters would be used to disperse the little dams of water splattered around the field.
The helicopters never came, but a squad of ladies with brooms did. It was an incongruous sight. In a technological age of tools such as super soppers (used at cricket and golf courses), was this the best that Kings Park could come up with for a World Cup semi-final?
But those ladies got stuck in and the crowd cheered them enthusiastically.
The game began brightly for the Springboks and our misery in the stands was forgotten right after kickoff when the Bok forwards charged down the middle and Ruben Kruger scored.
What really stood out thereafter as the game disintegrated into a desperate arm wrestle was the magnificent penalty kicking displays by Joel Stransky and Thierry Lacroix. The conditions were desperately difficult, but they showed exceptional skill to trade penalties until with about five minutes remaining, the Boks led 19-15.
The French were throwing the kitchen sink at the Boks as time slipped away and when an up and under was hoisted towards the Bok 22, and James Small was moving to catch it, the prayer was that he would mark it, kick it up field and the pressure would be relieved.
But he dropped it, and when from the scrum another kick was put up towards the Bok line and Andre Joubert also fumbled the ball, it bounced into the hands of Abdelatif Benazzi. The massive French flank charged for the line but as de dived for the score, and glory, the covering Small flung his body across the tryline and the ball was grounded on him.
Small had literally, and bravely, put his body on the line.
But the French had an attacking five-metre scrum... The tension was excruciating as a series of French scrums were somehow held off. It seemed impossible that the Boks could hold out, but somehow they did.
And when Hennie le Roux shot up in midfield to tackle opposite number Lacroix behind the advantage line, the Boks were awarded a scrum... time was mercilessly up and referee Derek Bevan ended the agony for not just the 55 000 but all of SA.