Memorable Moments

Gavin Rich shares his most memorable Rugby World Cup moments:

THAT disallowed try
World Cup final 2007
The English media, and in particular the tabloids, who are perhaps run by soccer people who don’t understand that a foot on the line is out in rugby, made a massive fuss about the one memorable incident of an otherwise drab 2007 World Cup final.

The Springboks won it comfortably enough, 15-6, and always looked in control, but could have been in trouble at the start of the second half were it not for a bit of defensive magic from eventual man of the match, Victor Matfield.

Rare miscommunication in the Bok backline defence had allowed Matthew Tait, the England centre, to break clear. He surged through a few more missed tackles and looked like he could score himself but Matfield’s desperate tackle brought him to ground. But the move did not end there, and the ball found its way to England wing, Marc Cueto, who dived for the corner.

The whole of South Africa and the entire England rugby supporting public would have held their breath in the next few suspenseful minutes as referee Alain Rolland consulted with TMO Stuart Dickinson, the Australian referee South Africans had grown over the years to loathe. But Dickinson got this one right, Cueto’s foot had indeed touched the line, and the try was disallowed. Had it been scored, the Boks might have been in trouble as although never by much, they had always been comfortably ahead in the game, and a converted try then would have seen them fall behind.

John Smit and the president parade the trophy
World Cup final 2007
Compared to 12 years earlier, when Francois Pienaar held aloft the William Webb Ellis trophy to such celebratory fanfare, the immediate aftermath of the 2007 final might have seemed a bit anti-climactic to neutrals, but it was hugely emotional to those of us who were at Stade de France.

All day the streets of Paris had been choked with white clad England supporters who had hurried across the Channel when they knew that England had made the final. Suddenly the whitewash they suffered at the hands of the Springboks earlier in the tournament seemed to have been forgotten – it was all about Jonny Wilkinson, how he was the king, and how England were going to retain the World Cup.

Unlike in the Pool game over a month before, the Springboks never ran away with it – it was a tight final, and although the Boks always seemed to be in control and were just keeping England at arms-length, England still had a chance of winning it right up until the last minutes. It was when those last minutes arrived that the count-down began among South African fans – five minutes, four minutes, three minutes….and then 30 seconds…and then the hugging down on the field between elated and emotional players and management and the hugging in the stands between supporters and, yes, even some of the South African media.

The then President of our country, Thabo Mbeki, made his way onto the field, and like Madiba had in 1995, he joined the team in their celebrations and got to hold the trophy as the mournful England supporters slunk away. It was one of those rare occasions as a rugby journalist when I was so choked with emotion that it was hard to start working, and the celebrations that started at the final whistle lasted long into the Paris night.

Madiba comes onto field
World Cup final 1995
For many the most memorable vignette from the opening game of the World Cup opening game in 1995 will be of Springbok left wing Pieter Hendricks wagging his finger in delight as he rounded David Campese for the first try of the tournament. It was a memorable moment, but for those who were there on that clear May day at Newlands nothing surpassed the emotion and passion that attended the crowd reaction to the arrival on the field of the great man himself, Nelson Mandela.

The country’s first democratically elected president had played a big role in securing the World Cup for South Africa and the drive towards the nation building that was such a big part of the tournament arguably started as he walked out onto the field to the echoing chants from the terraces – “Nelson, Nelson, Nelson, Nelson!!!”

It was indeed a heady and an emotional moment for all South Africans, as was the entire opening ceremony, which went off without a hitch and was a credit to the Rainbow Nation which it had as its theme. And oh yes, the Springboks played their part in making the day even more memorable – they came to the party in a big way by beating the reigning champions, Australia, and thus announcing themselves as challengers for the trophy as they embarked on the low road that coach Kitch Christie had spoken so much about.


The PE fracas
Pool game, 1995
The Pool match against Canada in Port Elizabeth was always going to be one the Springboks would just be looking to get through, and you could tell that was their attitude as they ground it out against a Canadian team that had won a lot of fans in the Eastern Cape before that for their spirited rugby.

The match started in somewhat controversial circumstances – 45 minutes late in fact – because of a cable blowing in the floodlighting. For a long time fans might have been wondering why they bothered to put the lighting on, for it was a forgettable game from a rugby viewpoint, and might have been a forgettable game all round were it not for the fracas towards the end that it will forever be remembered for.

The Springboks were leading 20-0 with 10 minutes to go when all hell broke loose, something that had been brewing throughout a contest where there was a lot of red mist hanging around both teams. It was started by a Pieter Hendriks challenge on Canadian wing Winston Stanley, but the real cause of what followed was Canada’s fullback Scott Stewart, who aggressively charged into Hendriks.

Springbok hooker James Dalton came flying in, he would later claim that he wanted to break the fight up, and punches were flying everywhere. Anyone could have been sent off, but Dalton had been closest to referee David McHugh when the brawl started, and he was given his marching orders along with Canada prop Rod Snow and his captain Gareth Rees. Hendriks and Stewart were also both sanctioned with suspension from the game in disciplinary hearings carried out subsequent to the game.

The Stransky drop that won it
World Cup final 1995
The 1995 World Cup final will not be remembered for great attacking movements but for the unbearable tension that enveloped the entire 80 minutes and then the extra 20 of extra time, with neither the All Blacks or Springboks agreeing to give until the moment that sent South Africa into a month of wild celebration.

With the scores deadlocked at 12-all, the Springboks needed to score to win the World Cup as the rules of the tournament in those days decreed that the winners would be the side that boasted the best disciplinary record in the event of a draw after extra time. James Dalton had been red carded after the infamous battle in Port Elizabeth much earlier in the tournament, while the All Blacks had not had anyone carded.

It was with six minutes to go that the Springboks had the benefit of a scrum put in. It wasn’t far out from the All Black 22, it was in the perfect position for a drop goal, something Joel Stransky had used effectively to win a warm-up game against Western Province in the build-up stage to the World Cup. The first scrum wheeled and had to be reset, but this time the Springbok scrum, so solid throughout the World Cup, got it right as Joost van der Westhuizen was able to clear comfortably for Stransky, who looked as though he knew he had slotted it the moment his toe touched the ball.

He was later to say that he had never struck a ball so sweetly in his life. Until Jonny Wilkinson did a similar thing in a World Cup final eight years later, this was the most talked about drop-goal of all time. The Boks had to see out the remaining minutes of the game, six of them, but somehow everyone just knew when the ball went through the posts that this was the clincher – the Boks had won the World Cup.

Pienaar’s moment of genius
World Cup final 1995
There were many great things that Francois Pienaar did as a captain on the field, but it was his public relations genius off it, his ability to say the right thing at the right time, that he will probably be best remembered for. And his television interview after the final whistle of the 1995 World Cup final, broadcast live around the world as well as to those inside the stadium, will forever be remembered as a stand-out moment in the Springbok nation building success of that tournament.

“No David, it was not for 60 000 but for 43-million,” were Pienaar’s words, or thereabouts, with the David referred to being the man who was interviewing him, David van der Sandt.

Pienaar’s words were an accurate summation of what was happening outside the stadium, with people emptying the houses and pubs around the country to go into the streets to celebrate the Bok triumph. Inside Ellis Park it was also pandemonium, with Pienaar leading his team in that famous prayer straight after the final whistle that was televised around the world. Earlier in the day of course, before the opening whistle, Nelson Mandela had appeared on the field wearing a Springbok jersey – with Pienaar’s No6 on the back.

Wilkinson’s drop-goal
World Cup final 2003
As Rugby World Cup finals go, the one that was most similar to the stand-off between Australia and England in Sydney in 2003 was the epic 1995 match in Johannesburg. But there were some crucial differences – there was a try scored in the 2003 match, and when Jonny Wilkinson dropped the goal that won the match, there were only 26 seconds left, and not six minutes.

So it was effectively the last move of a great World Cup tournament which went into extra time and was less than half a minute away from what would have been the first “drop-off” in World Cup rugby history. It came at the end of a game of nip and tuck, with neither team really gaining any ascendancy on the scoreboard though England were clearly the superior team – and South African referee Andre Watson received a bit of a pasting from the English media for being too lenient on Australia, who for most of the way were just hanging in.

Unlike Stransky’s eight years earlier, the Wilkinson drop was one you could see coming. The England flyhalf had a penchant in those days of putting over drop kicks, and as the England pack drove towards the Australian posts, there was no doubt about what they were trying to do, although Matt Dawson did try one break before Martin Johnson finally took the ball up one last time, just in front of the posts, to set Wilkinson up perfectly for the fairytale finish to a glorious period for English rugby.

Jannie de Beer’s boot of God
Quarterfinal, 1999
Poor Jannie de Beer was only trying to thank his creator for the talents he was blessed with, but the international media, particularly the English section that remembered Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal against their country at the 1986 Soccer World Cup, were quick to seize upon the flyhalf’s words and turn it into a sensational headline.

And while it may not have been what De Beer intended, his feats that day were deserving of the fuss. Five drop-goals in one match, a World Cup quarterfinal at that, was unheard of, but De Beer, playing behind a pack that became more ascendant the longer the game lasted, just kept slotting them over during a second half that became progressively more nightmarish for England.

The match was played at Stade de France, the scene of one of the greatest triumphs in Springbok history eight years later, and as you might suspect, a lot of the French fans present were supporting South Africa. But there was also a large army of England fans that had made its way across the English Channel with great expectations, for up to that point the Springboks had mounted a decidedly mediocre defence of the World Cup they had won four years earlier.

England were well in it as South Africa led 16-12 at the break, but De Beer slotted his first drop seven minutes after the restart and then just kept doing it as the South Africans went further and further ahead, eventually well and truly dousing any vocal support from the England supporters. De Beer scored 34 points in a 44-21 victory for his team.

e Beer scored 34 points in a 44-21 victory for his team.