Best of RWC - Episode 5

1995 – South Africa – Upsets

As previously mentioned this was written mainly from memory and some of the “facts” may be open to interpretation.

So… 1995 the Rainbow Nation

The 1995 RWC was a tournament that proves the point in my introduction of the first part of this series that rugby rarely provides upsets at international level.

Even the two matches included here push the bounds of what actually constitutes an upset, but on close examination I believe there was sufficient sentiment suggesting favouritism prior to the match for them to meet my very fluid definition of “upset”.

(Note: The final, which I have been assured did actually take place although there will forever remain a blank spot in my memory, is not included as an upset. Despite the desire of some to use that match to add to the All Blacks’ “choking” legend, it was evident pre-tournament that NZ were clearly ranked as 5th placed outsiders. Although by kick off of the final NZ had been elevated to favourite they were still very much a 50/50 proposition. This game is examined in depth … well … examined … in it’s own Episode 7 “1995 Classic Final”.)

South Africa 27 v Australia 18

Although the result was not jaw droppingly surprising given the two combatants in this match, (both were and remain pretty handy) defending champions and Bledisloe Cup holders Australia entered this tournament as one of the definite favourites to take the title.

Ok, so did South Africa, but they had only recently returned from the apartheid enforced isolation years, and despite being mentioned as contenders for the title started behind Australia on reputation in this match.

So by my crude and very adaptable criteria used to determine what constitutes an upset this one sneaks in.

Playing in beautiful sunshine at a packed Newlands the Bokke out-muscled their opposites and outscored them 3 tries to 2 (I think … you think you’d be able to find this stuff on the internet!! * written in 2007 and I wasn’t greatly internet savvy. Wikipedia confirms it was in fact 2 tries a piece.) on their World Cup debut. About all I can recall of the match is that the teams slugged away for most of the first half and the start of the second, effectively point for point until South Africa eased away late in the game.

I do recall Pieter Hendricks, who for some reason I found annoying as a rugby player, scoring an excellent try. Hendricks was later involved in some argy-bargy in the Boks’ match against Canada and was sent off (either that or he was awarded the equivalent of a post-match yellow and James Dalton was ordered off, one or t’other) unceremoniously ending his tournament.

It was an appropriate opening to the tournament and an appropriate welcome to World Cup rugby to the South Africans.

New Zealand 45 v England 29

In retrospect it may surprise many that I include this match as an upset, but given the level of favouritism in the year leading up to the tournament where New Zealand were considered 5th placed outsiders at best, justifiably written off following a disappointing 1994 (a 2-nil loss to France at home, a disappointing draw in the third test against the Boks, albeit in a 2-nil series win, and the Gregan-Wilson Bledisloe loss), and England entering the tournament on the back of (unsurprisingly) massive Fleet Street hype as Five Nations Grand Slam champions this result surprised many.

According to legend this is the match that helped ‘The Establishment’ keep control of rugby, and for that we can thank Jonah Lomu for turning on a display of power and pace that not only flustered TVNZ commentator Keith Quinn but so impressed Rupert Murdoch that he was moved to sign the deal with the southern superpowers that created SANZAR, the Super 12 and Tri-Nations. How true that story is I am not sure – but it has been reported so often that there is likely to be more than a hint of truth in it.

When the blitz-like opening to the match produced the two most memorable tries of the Cup – Jonah’s demolition of the hapless Mike Catt after the AB forwards had worked England over on both sides of the field creating space on the left, and the Glen Osborne-Walter Little double act that put Josh Kronfeld over in the same corner (the latter being voted the try of the tournament) – the match was effectively over.

Three more tries to Jonah, a well worked blindside move allowing Graham Bachop to scamper away, and two drop goals to Andrew Mehrtens and Zinny Brooke (the former allowing Mehrtens to post 100 points in tests in record time for an individual, and the latter just before half time having serious repercussions in the following week’s Final due to the leg injury he sustained in the act) gave New Zealand a huge win: the margin perhaps as much, maybe more, a surprise than the result.

Four late consolation tries to the Poms, at least one of which was blatantly incorrect (Underwood’s feet were well over the touchline, and I seem to recall being indignant about the awarding of one of the others for some reason) and one downright lucky (the ball dropped luckily for Carling following a charge down) flattered them.

The battering the English took in this match would take some 6 or 7 years to heal. It was telling that the English could not seem to accept that they were badly beaten-up by the New Zealand forwards, and thus they created the myth that the only reason they lost was the presence of Jonah in the opposition. This sort of blinkered thinking would persist through 1999 and up until the lead-in to the 2003 World Cup when the planets aligned for them as they eventually assembled a most impressive roster of players and coaches.

This win washed New Zealand into the final on a wave of optimism, and all of a sudden favouritism, for their second RWC win. New Zealand’s planets did not align, and amid controversy and colour, patriotism and poor health, Suzy and Nelson Mandela the Springboks defended their way to a win at home in their first appearance at the RWC. The dream result for the Rainbow Nation in what had been billed by the South African press and organisers as the “Dream Final”. Try as I might to forget it, this match is one of the greatest matches of all time, and will be explored in an upcoming episode.
Next up though “1995 - The Classics”.

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