Rugby Championship

Ex-Bok: Streak was a burden

2014-08-14 20:19
Robbie Kempson (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - South Africa's 17-match winning streak under Nick Mallett in the late 1990s was a magnificent achievement but ended up being something of a burden, according to former Springbok prop Robbie Kempson.

A combative loosehead, Kempson played 37 Tests for his country between his debut against Ireland in June 1998 and his final match against Australia just before the 2003 World Cup.

His first 10 Tests were victories but the 11th was a defeat to England in December 1998 that prevented the Springboks from claiming the record outright from the 1965-1969 All Blacks with an 18th victory.

"To be honest, I didn't think about it too much at the time until we got close to the record," he recalled.

"I don't think we even really realised what the situation was until it got pretty close and the media picked up on it.

"But when you look back now, it is a fantastic achievement to win 17 games of international rugby in a row, and maybe even more so these days with the quality of world rugby and the fact that on their day any of the top four can beat the other."

The current New Zealand side have matched the 17-match streak and could claim the record with victory over Australia in their Rugby Championship opener in Sydney on Saturday.

South Africa's winning streak came at a tough time for rugby in the country after the glow of the 1995 World Cup triumph on home soil had faded.

The All Blacks won their first series in South Africa in 1996 and the British and Irish Lions returned for their first post-Apartheid tour in 1997 and clinched a 2-1 triumph.

Three defeats at the start of the 1997 Tri-Nations were followed by a thumping 61-22 win over Australia but that was not enough to extend the brief reign of Carel du Plessis as coach and Mallett took over before the tour of Europe.

Captained by No 8 Gary Teichmann and with the brilliant Joost van der Westhuizen at scrumhalf, the Springboks won all five matches on that tour to extend their winning run to six matches.

Kempson replaced Os du Randt early the following season, packing down with hooker James Dalton and tighthead Adrian Garvey in a front row that was to remain unchanged to the end of the winning run.

The run was extended through the June Test season, the 1998 Tri-Nations and after victories over Wales, Scotland and Ireland back in Europe, the Springboks were on the cusp of the record.

"It was never discussed at length by the players or team management, though we realised afterwards it would have been quite special to get the record outright," Kempson said.

"It was something the whole team wanted to achieve, it mattered to us.

"Probably by the time we got to the England match, it was a bit of a burden as the pressure brought by people and the media talking about it began to get to the players a bit.

"Like I said, it was not specifically discussed, but you sense looking back now it caused some anxiety."

It was not be and the South Africans succumbed 13-7 in their final match of 1998 in the Twickenham mud, Kempson receiving a yellow card in the 48th minute for a punch off the ball.

"That was quite a tough European tour, tougher than the scorelines maybe suggest, and the pressure around this record was mounting," he added.

"I don't think it ever effected team selection or team strategy or anything like that, it was not about protecting the record, it was about winning rugby matches, but suddenly it was a big deal."

That the current All Blacks are in a position to claim the record on Saturday is a reward, Kempson said, for the way coach Steve Hansen has managed to renew his squad while maintaining the highest standards.

"This current All Black side is obviously exceptional and Steve Hansen has got his selections spot on," he said.

"It would be nice for the rest of the world if some of their players retired!"


South Africa:

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Jan Serfontein


15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Paul Matera, 5 Thomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Marcos Ayerza

Substitutes: 16 Matias Cortese, 17 Paz Lucas Noguera, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Thomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino


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