The Glory of '95: Chester Williams always put the Springboks first
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“HE beamed from ear to ear and was extremely proud. But he remained humble and knew it wasn’t about him, but the team.”
That is how Springbok World Cup-winning back Hennie le Roux remembers the evening after his teammate, the late Chester Williams, had scored four tries on his tournament debut at Ellis Park on June 10, 1995.
It was the quarter-finals of the 95 Rugby World Cup and Williams had only joined the Bok team a few days earlier after missing the initial pool stages. The “Black Pearl”, as wing Williams was known, had missed out on selection for the tournament because of a niggling hamstring injury.
His place in the squad went to Pieter Hendriks, who scored a famous try in the opening game of the tournament at Newlands by rounding Australian great, David Campese. But days later Hendriks was banned from the World Cup after an infamous incident at the Boet Erasmus Stadium in a match against Canada when several players got involved in a dust-up.
Williams had recovered from his injury and was called up by coach Kicth Christie - a World Cup lifeline for the wing. And how the friendly, but deadly finisher made it count. Williams scored four tries in the 42-14 quarter-final win against Western Samoa.
Le Roux, who played flyhalf in the match on a sunny afternoon at Ellis Park, remembers the game well.
“We knew it was going to be a big physical battle; it’s all Samoa had to offer. They’ve always been a team who like to intimidate the opposition and we knew if we allowed them to get on top, we’d have some trouble getting the better of them,” Le Roux recalled.
“So, the plan was to hit them hard up front and move the ball away from the contact points.
“We needed - and got - the momentum to put them on the back foot thanks to the strong performance by our forwards. That was key, and then the plan was to unleash the backs. We knew our pace out wide would get them.”
Williams scored his first three tries in the left corner after some slick handling by the men inside him, while his fourth try was from close range.
“I helped Chester get over the line with that last one. We were the two smallest backs in the team and we used our collective momentum to go over the line,” said Le Roux, who remembers his teammate fondly.
“He was just a genuine nice guy. He was humble and always put the team first. He worked extremely hard on the field and always looked for work. He loved coming in off the wing.
“It’s the work ethic he had that stands out the most for me. Many talented players shirk the hard graft, but not Chester. He gave his pound of flesh and always looked to be better. He practiced hard and got involved in the team.
“We were all very happy for him getting those four tries against Western Samoa. It was an achievement he was proud of and, rightly, that match will always be remembered for those four tries.”
Williams passed away in September last year following a heart attack. “He was a great man, someone you could trust. We got to know each other really well after the World Cup when he moved up to Joburg to play for the Cats,” said Le Roux.
“It’s bizarre that he’s no longer with us. He is sorely missed, as are all the guys from that 95 team who have left us.”