Springboks, All Blacks clash in titanic rugby World Cup battle
Harare.- Exactly 20 years after their iconic showdown shaped the Rainbow Nation, a grand occasion graced by Nelson Mandela and whose dramatic events inspired a blockbuster Hollywood movie, fate has ensured that the All Blacks and the Springboks collide again with the Rugby World Cup at stake.
The neutral fields of London’s Twickenham Stadium will this weekend provide the setting for one of the biggest battles in world rugby, an explosive showdown rich in history, which some claim founded a nation when South Africa triumphed in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park.
While this weekend’s showdown won’t guarantee the winner the Rugby World Cup trophy, unlike that epic battle at Ellis Park 20 years ago, there are many who feel that the team that emerges victorious in this semi-final will be taking the Webb Ellis trophy home when the curtain comes down on this extravaganza next week.
Matches between the All Blacks and the Springboks have been the flagship battles of world rugby, since the South Africans emerged from years of being isolated because of apartheid, and powered to Rugby World Cup triumph in their first adventure.
The Boks edged the All Blacks in that epic battle for the title and, with Mandela, who had emerged from a 27-year prison spell to become the first democratically elected President of his nation, embracing a team that many blacks felt were the sporting branch of apartheid, some feel that success helped unite a nation deeply divided along racial lines.
Twenty years later, the iconic showdown, which the Boks won 15-12 after extra-time, continues to hog the headlines and that the two rivals will battle again, this time in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup, has brought that contest back into the limelight.
It was a milestone encounter, in which Mandela’s magic helped shape his country, but it was also a controversial match, amid claims by some of the All Blacks that they were poisoned, which weakened them, on the eve of that titanic battle.
The then All Blacks coach, Laurie Mains, claimed the tampering of their food was part of an orchestrated campaign of dirty tricks by the Springboks to ensure that the hosts would be crowned champions at the expense of New Zealand, who were the favourites.
“It was just an amazing sequence of events and coincidence that, of our 35-man party that ate at that particular lunch venue in the hotel here, about 27 of them went down in the space of 12 hours,” Mains said.
“You can read what you like into that, but I don’t think it was coincidence. We certainly have our suspicions.”
And, in 2000, Rory Steyn, who worked as the head of security for Mandela at the time and was assigned to the All Blacks, also claimed, in his autobiography, One Step Behind Mandela, backed the poisoning claims.
“We raced back to the hotel and when I got up to the doctor’s room it looked like a battle zone – like a scene from a war movie,” wrote Steyn.
“Players were lying all over the place and the doctor and physio were walking around injecting them. I was a police officer, I worked with facts. What my eyes told me that night was that the team had deliberately been poisoned.
“I had to endure accusations of complicity in this, from New Zealand officials, and I was very angry that this was allowed to happen in my country – to people in my care. South African rugby fans remained skeptical of this theory and preferred to put it down to sour Kiwi grapes.
“To my fellow South Africans I want to say this: Stop all those cheap jokes about Suzie, the food poisoning and whingeing Kiwis. It happened. There is no doubt that the All Blacks were poisoned two days before the final.”
Former South African rugby boss, Louis Luyt, didn’t help matters either, during the banquet for the winners and losers, when he suggested the Springboks’ triumph meant that they were the true world champions given they had been missing from the previous tournaments.
“There were no true world champions in the 1987 and 1991 World Cups because South Africa were not there,” Luyt.
That triggered a wave of All Blacks storming out of the function in protest.
Twenty years later, the two giants collide again.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was savaged by the media and fans after his team’s shock defeat to Japan in a group game but then masterminded their revival, including a gritty show that produced a dramatic late win over Wales in the quarter-finals.
“We’re still in the competition and I want to thank all our supporters here and back home for their unbelievable support,” Meyer said..
“This was a proper knock-out match and it could have gone either way against a quality Welsh side, but our players stuck it out and showed character and determination when we needed it most.
“I always knew it was going to go right to the wire.
“I have always said coaching is overrated. You have to pick players with character and who perform under pressure. The experienced players, both in the starting team and on the bench made a huge different, but I also want to take my hat off to the youngsters.”
The All Blacks enjoy a 59 percent winning ratio over the Springboks in their 90 Tests but the South Africans have the edge when it comes to the World Cup meetings.
Former Springboks coach, Nick Mallett, believes the South Africans have the capacity to beat the All Blacks for a place in the final.
“Our game plan is not to make mistakes, we retain possession and retain possession, and the opposition have to tackle,” Mallet, who is a pundit on SuperSport, said on the pay-per-view television channel.
“We always made yards, and most of the forwards got over the advantage line, but if we play the All Blacks, and they get off the line quickly, that’s what will be a bit worrying.
“When we do get across the advantage line, it gives time to Fourie du Preez to make good decisions, but if we’re tackled behind the advantage line and they [the All Blacks] get off the line quickly, that is when we’ll be under pressure.
“Our tactical kicking was poor and some of our kicking was inaccurate from our backline players. We relied on Fourie to get us out of trouble, but the positive is that we were in the game the whole time, although we have to kick our penalties.
“Let’s not be negative after this win though, we’ve made the semi-finals, so let’s back these guys. We can do it.”