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How Madiba magic inspired the 1995 Boks

2015-06-24 10:30

Exactly two decades ago, the Springbok team bus traversed the bustling streets of Johannesburg and headed towards Ellis Park Stadium. The soundtrack which accompanied the journey from Sandton to Doornfontein was Roger Whittaker’s classic tune,‘I don’t believe in if anymore.’ There was a sense of destiny which coloured the road to the final, and President Nelson Mandela was at the forefront.

“There is no doubt that fate was on our side,” Joel Stransky, the man who slotted the match-winning drop goal in the second period of extra-time, told Sport24. “If you analysed the two teams on paper in terms of experience and ability, we probably weren’t the better outfit. However, on the day we had the support of a whole nation, an incredible following in the stadium, and Madiba clad in the Springbok shirt with the number six emblazoned on his back. I believe all those factors added up.”

While late coach Kitch Christie was the conductor of the orchestra and should be credited for leaving no stone unturned in terms of preparation - South Africa were the fittest team at the tournament - the Springboks were fuelled by Madiba Magic. A phenomenon, real or imagined, which saw South Africa perform better on the field of play after having interacted with the inspirational statesman.

“I can still feel the goose bumps running down my body when I witnessed Madiba walk into our change room before the final wearing the Bok jersey with Francois Pienaar’s number stitched on the back,” World Cup-winning lock Hannes Strydom said from his Pretoria-based pharmacy this week.

New Zealand were the bookies’ favourites to win the grand final, but their heads dropped collectively when they witnessed Mandela stroll towards the home change room prior to kick-off. 

Rugby union in South Africa was historically a symbol of white oppression, but Mandela disarmed a nation by donning the Green and Gold jersey. It was a masterstroke from the canny politician and a powerful tool in breaking down racial barriers in a country at the embryonic stages of its democracy.

“It meant a lot to us playing on home territory and having Mandela, as the fantastic figure that he was, supporting us wholeheartedly. He was our 16th man on the field,” continued Strydom. “He was a charismatic person, a true leader for South Africa and the right man to bind the nation together.”

The Springboks’ long and fruitful relationship with Mandela began when the former political prisoner visited the team at their training base at Silvermine Nature Reserve in Cape Town. Mandela arrived via helicopter, but his grandiose entrance belied his down-to-earth nature. He enjoyed tea and sandwiches with the playing group and management team, and offered his unequivocal support.

World Cup-winning inside centre Hennie le Roux instinctively handed Mandela his Springbok cap at the training session after being impressed by the statesman’s sincere approach. “His words weren’t superficial and his visit was well-placed. It was a source of inspiration in uncertain times,” Le Roux told Sport24. “We needed to find commonality, and the World Cup acted as a catalyst in bringing people together. The occasion gave rise to a collectiveness within the country, unique from a sporting point of view. The combination of Mandela and rugby worked well at the time.”

Then Sarfu CEO Edward Griffiths coined the slogan of one team, one country prior to the tournament, and it proved apt. When the Springboks won the showpiece, blacks, whites and coloureds joined hands both literally and figuratively. The 1995 Rugby World Cup was a conduit for change in South Africa and symbolised unity through diversity with Mandela at the coalface.

“He was an unbelievable man amongst men,” added Stransky. “What Madiba stood for was honesty and integrity, and I wish we had more of that in our society today. While some have done well to build on his legacy, I believe he would be quite disappointed as to where South Africa is as a nation.”

Kobus Wiese concurred, “Sadly, we have lost a lot of Madiba’s legacy down the road, which is tragic and something that I hope we can restore. He taught us humility, compassion and understanding.”

Strydom added, “We need to return to our roots and make it one team, one country again.”

The anniversary of the Springboks’ maiden World Cup triumph will fittingly be celebrated at Ellis Park on Wednesday. All available team members will assemble to share their recollections of the tournament, and how it brought a once fiercely divided country, across racial lines, together as one.


South Africa

Penalties: Joel Stransky (3)

Drop goals: Stransky (2)

New Zealand

Penalties: Andrew Mehrtens (3)

Drop goal: Mehrtens


South Africa

1. Os du Randt, 2. Chris Rossouw, 3. Balie Swart, 4. Hannes Strydom, 5. Kobus Wiese, 6. Francois Pienaar (captain), 7. Ruben Kruger, 8. Mark Andrews, 9. Joost van der Westhuizen, 10. Joel Stransky, 11. Chester Williams, 12. Hennie Le Roux, 13. Japie Mulder, 14. James Small, 15. Andre Joubert

New Zealand

1. Olo Brown, 2. Sean Fitzpatrick (captain), 3. Craig Dowd, 4. Robin Brooke, 5. Ian Jones, 6. Mike Brewer, 7. Josh Kronfeld, 8. Zinzan Brooke, 9. Graeme Bachop, 10. Andrew Mehrtens, 11. Jonah Lomu, 12. Frank Bunce, 13. Walter Little, 14. Jeff Wilson, 15. Glen Osborne

Crowd: 62 000

Referee: Ed Morrison (England)

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