Cape Town - Some 19 years have passed since the Springboks last tackled Tuesday’s latest World Cup opponents Canada, and there are only two bilateral clashes anyway … but both were memorable in their own ways.
As they prepare for a first neutral-turf meeting in Kobe (12:15 SA time) in the Boks’ pool-closer, here is a reminder of the earlier games, both played on the Eastern Cape coast.
SA 20 Canada 0 (Port Elizabeth, 1995)
The words “Battle of Boet Erasmus” will forever be associated, first and foremost, with this RWC 1995 fixture, also the Springboks’ last - a good omen, perhaps? - before advancing safely to the knockout stage and eventual glory.
But it was an unexpectedly bitter, cynical, drama-filled scrap … including the occurrence of floodlight failure during the national anthems which might have gone some way to explaining the challenges to both teams’ good humour; it forced a 45-minute delay to kick-off.
It was still mathematically possible for the Boks to be eliminated, so coach Kitch Christie didn’t completely field his “second string”: he asked squad captain Francois Pienaar to lead the cause, after Adriaan Richter had fronted against Romania at Newlands, as an “insurance policy”, as he put it.
Noticeably more industrial and risk-averse than they were adventurous, everything was going roughly to plan as the host nation entered the final 10 minutes or so already 20-0 to the good. (Richter still played, at No 8, and had been responsible for both SA tries, a quirky carbon copy of the situation against the Romanians.)
But then perpetual tetchiness suddenly exploded into more violent, open warfare through a mass brawl which saw two Canadians - flyhalf and captain Gareth Rees and prop Rod Snow - red-carded and the Boks losing volatile hooker James Dalton in the same way.
An emotional, contrite “Bullet” protested later that he had gone in as a peacemaker … though his body language had looked well less than conciliatory as he galloped into the fray.
But both he and wing Pieter Hendriks, who had also been deemed a central figure in the almost ice hockey-like punch-fest, were banned from the tournament.
On the brighter side, the Boks were through to the quarter-finals, and Hendriks’ omission paved the way for fit-again icon Chester Williams to return to the mix: he promptly scored four tries in a 42-14 dismantling of Samoa.
SA 51 Canada 18 (East London, 2000)
Five years on, there was very little, lingering acrimony from the PE slugout as the Boks opened their 2000 Test year with a “warm-up” encounter (ahead of a two-Test visit from emerging heavyweights England) against the Canadians.
Now led by second-rower Al Charron, the Canadians proved spirited enough, reasonably durable opponents - especially considering that they leaked roughly a point a minute for the high-tempo first 25 or thereabouts from the Boks - but were still much better beaten than in ’95.
This time, the floodgates opened in a more pronounced way in the try column, South Africa dotting eight alone of the 10.
It was the first game as new, full-time Bok skipper by loose forward Andre Vos, although he had led the cause against Spain at the 1999 World Cup.
The Boks fielded a notably Stormers-heavy starting XV, including pairing green-and-gold first-timer De Wet Barry in midfield with his more established Newlands ally Robbie Fleck, who was also the only noteworthy disciplinary transgressor in the Test, earning a yellow card.
But there were two further Bok debutants off the bench, Thinus Delport … and a certain John “Barney” Smit.
Little would the watching East Londoners at ABSA Stadium know at the time that the versatile front-rower would go on to earn a massive total of 111 caps in an 11-year Bok career and lead the national team to glory along the way at RWC 2007.
The Bok try list on the day include a brace each for Breyton Paulse (one a thrilling 75-metre dash) and Fleck, while the line-up was also notable for current coach Rassie Erasmus playing at No 6 flank.
It was a deceptive Bok triumph, as clouds would soon start to gather around then-coach Nick Mallett, not helped by a one-from-five record in the next handful of Tests that year …
Tuesday's match at Kobe Misaki Stadium is scheduled for 12:15 (SA time).
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Warrick Gelant, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Sbu Nkosi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Francois Louw, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Thomas du Toit
Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 Willie le Roux
15 Andrew Coe; 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Conor Trainor, 12 Ciaran Hearn, 11 DTH van der Merwe; 10 Peter Nelson, 9 Phil Mack; 8 Tyler Ardron (captain), 7 Matt Heaton, 6 Lucas Rumball; 5 Kyle Baillie, 4 Evan Olmstead; 3 Jake Ilnicki, 2 Andrew Quattrin, 1 Hubert Buydens
Substitutes: 16 Benoit Piffero, 17 Djustice Sears-Duru, 18 Matt Tierney, 19 Josh Larsen, 20 Michael Sheppard, 21 Jamie Mackenzie, 22 Shane O'Leary, 23 Guiseppe du Toit
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