Reliving Rugby History: 1995 Rugby World Cup Final Remembered - Part Two

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Reliving Rugby History: 1995 Rugby World Cup Final Remembered – Part Two

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It has been 26 years since the iconic clash between the All Blacks and the Springboks in a Rugby World Cup final. The intense match, won 15-12 by the Springboks at Ellis Park, remains etched in rugby history for its drama, intrigue, and political backdrop. This article is the second installment of a three-part series extracted from Jamie Wall’s 2021 book, “The Hundred Years’ War: All Blacks v Springboks.”

In Part Two, we delve into the emotionally charged moments that unfolded as the All Blacks faced off with the Springboks. The match began with the All Blacks performing their haka just a few feet away from their opponents on the halfway line, setting the stage for what would be a tormented period that New Zealanders would rather forget.

The game got underway with Andrew Mehrtens squibbing the kickoff along the ground. However, the Springboks quickly won a penalty. The referee for this pivotal match was Englishman Ed Morrison, known for his role in the Bledisloe Cup epic the year before in Sydney. That match culminated in George Gregan’s heroics, and Morrison’s officiating was expected to play a critical role given the anticipated closeness of this contest.

The All Blacks had an early opportunity as Mehrtens edged them ahead with a penalty. Jonah Lomu, the rugby sensation of that era, appeared set to charge into the 22 but was tackled by Joost van der Westhuizen. Unfortunately for the All Blacks, Lomu’s offload went into the arms of Mark Andrews instead. James Small, Lomu’s marker, maintained a relentless presence, notorious for his on-field antics, including a red card two years prior against the Wallabies.

The game soon settled into a kick-heavy duel between Mehrtens and Joel Stransky, with both teams trying to assert their dominance.

Nelson Mandela and Louis Luyt observed the match from the Ellis Park members’ box. Mandela, now wearing sunglasses, appeared more relaxed. He likely recognized the symbolism of his presence with the beloved white South African team, and the role it played in the country’s healing and progress.

However, the match unfolding before their eyes, witnessed by millions around the world, was very much within the Springboks’ grasp. This wasn’t the up-tempo style the All Blacks had displayed against other opponents in the last month. Instead, it resembled the close-quarters, hard-fought battles of the past.

It was a heavyweight clash, and as the game stayed tight, the Springboks’ chances of causing an upset increased.

Stransky and Mehrtens exchanged penalty goals, resulting in a 6-6 scoreline. The Springboks then maneuvered into position, allowing Stransky to land a dropped goal, giving them the lead at halftime.

The game continued in brutal fashion, reminiscent of the previous year’s mud-soaked encounter. The All Blacks were still battling the effects of illness, with Jeff Wilson leaving the game and Marc Ellis taking his place. Wilson, visibly affected, spent the remainder of the game on the sideline.

Despite their challenges, the All Blacks persevered, and the balance of power could shift at any moment.

Mehrtens remained cool under pressure, slotting a dropped goal in the 55th minute to level the scores. At the time, All Black dropped goals were less of a talking point than they are today. Mehrtens was known for his proficiency, having already scored two in his previous five test appearances. In contrast, modern-day stars like Dan Carter and Beauden Barrett took significantly longer to record their first dropped goals.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup final was far more than just a game; it was a battle of wills, determination, and history in the making. Stay tuned for the next installment in this series as we continue to revisit this iconic match.

Jonah Lomu had set a remarkable record for the All Blacks, scoring six tries against Japan. However, his performance in the final was a stark contrast. Lomu appeared underdone, making critical mistakes by dropping key kicks and passes. The game’s turning point came when Lomu mishandled a short ball near the Springbok 22, causing concern for New Zealand fans as it seemed the match was slipping from their grasp. This anxiety was shared by the massive crowd that filled Ellis Park.

Every tackle against a player in a black jersey was met with thunderous applause, and every kick downfield was warmly acknowledged. Jaapie Mulder’s defensive prowess against Walter Little and Frank Bunce was a standout performance, and the Springboks’ loose forwards provided invaluable assistance.

While the Springboks weren’t making advances towards the try line, they expertly stifled the potent All Black attack as the game progressed towards its climax.

As the clock ticked past the 70-minute mark, it became evident that the outcome would hinge on the kicking abilities of either Mehrtens or Stransky.

Mehrtens had a golden opportunity to break the 9-9 deadlock just before the end. Standing just 25 meters from the goal posts, he shockingly shanked a drop kick wide, much to the delight of the crowd. All Black supporters were living a nightmare as the wide-open spaces that had allowed Jonah Lomu to dominate seemed to have vanished. Instead, they faced a relentless green defensive wall, determined to thwart their every move.

As the ball sailed past the posts, the referee, Morrison, signaled full time. Under IRB rules, the official result of the 1995 test match between the All Blacks and South Africa was a 9-9 draw. However, any further proceedings would be determined by tournament rules. This marked the first time a rugby union test match was headed for extra time, setting the stage for one of the most historic games ever played. Mains and Kitch Christie watched with bated breath, as did Nelson Mandela and Louis Luyt. South Africa and New Zealand, along with the world, were gripped by this monumental encounter.

The All Blacks held the advantage. If the game remained tied, the Springboks’ poor disciplinary record throughout the tournament would cost them the victory, as the All Blacks had maintained a clean slate. This fact was not widely known, so the crowd’s reaction in such a scenario would have been intriguing.

In a more traditional turn of events, it was Mehrtens who seemed poised to secure the victory when the Springboks were penalized for being offside just on the halfway line a couple of minutes into extra time. The high-altitude environment that had drained energy from the All Blacks for decades was now working in their favor. Mehrtens confidently stepped up and nailed the penalty goal, propelling the All Blacks to a 12-9 lead. This kick was destined to be remembered as one of the greatest shots in the team’s history. In an era where monster penalty goals were far less common than today’s YouTube highlights, this was a remarkable feat.

However, the lead was short-lived, lasting only six minutes. Morrison penalized the All Blacks for a ruck infringement as the first half of extra time concluded, giving Stransky an opportunity that he successfully converted, tying the game at 12-all. By this point, everyone was left wondering what it would take to separate these two teams. The weight of history, the agony of past encounters, and the controversies surrounding the sport were all converging to transform this match into something more profound than just a rugby game.

Nelson Mandela, still in his Springbok jersey, could sense that his day was far from over. The Springboks were just one score away from an opportunity that would unite him with Pienaar for an iconic photo op, etching an unforgettable chapter in South African history.

Reference:

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/sport/501050/remembering-the-1995-rugby-world-cup-final-part-two

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/sport/500955/remembering-the-1995-rugby-world-cup-final-part-one

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