Mind Games: Rugby in 20 years of democracy

2014-01-26 10:00

Research for an article dealing with South Africa’s 20 years of democracy strikingly brings home the seismic shifts that have taken place in rugby since 1994. When the general elections in April 1994, which resulted in Nelson Mandela becoming South Africa’s first black president, were held, rugby was very different to what it is now.

Two decades can seem like either a very long time or a very short time: on the one hand, one’s memories of that amazing time are so fresh; and on the other, so much has happened that much of it is no more than annotations in faded record books.

In 1994, rugby was still an amateur game. Only two World Cups had been staged, there was no Super Rugby, no Tri-Nations and Italy had not yet joined the club to form the Six Nations.

Local rugby players and officials seemed unsure that isolation had ended. Even though the Springboks had re-emerged by playing against the All Blacks in August 1992 and the wearers of the green and gold had behaved like gluttons at a buffet by undertaking as many tours as they could fit in, there was a surreal feeling that it wasn’t really happening.

That would change in 1994 with resumption of tours to New Zealand (the gold standard as far as the players were concerned) and by then, South Africa had already appointed three coaches.

John Williams was the boss at the start of readmission, Gerrie Sonnekus was appointed to succeed him but was unable to take up the position and it fell to Ian McIntosh to steward the team to New Zealand.

It was not the most successful of expeditions, with the Boks losing two matches and drawing one. There was also the massive controversy caused by Johan le Roux biting Sean Fitzpatrick’s ear in the second test in Wellington. By year-end, McIntosh had been unceremoniously dumped and replaced by Kitch Christie to do an “ambulance job”.

Some ambulance, some job, as Winston Churchill might have said. The following year, with Mandela in attendance and wearing a Springbok jersey, South Africa won the rugby World Cup. That tournament would dramatically change the face of rugby.

Rugby had become a massive world game with huge crowd appeal and earning potential, and the three big southern hemisphere nations – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – having grown tired of the sham that was amateurism, formed Sanzar, launched the Super 12 and the Tri-Nations, and provided the catalyst that would lead to full professionalism by 1996.

Rather quickly, the new, improved, glitzy model of the game emerged.

When the Boks arrived in New Zealand in 1994, the French were in the country, causing shock and horror to spread through the two islands by winning the series 2-0.

The All Blacks fielded a massive young wing called Jonah Lomu, who proved to be a huge disappointment as Les Tricolores exposed his defensive weaknesses.

The series win was sealed by a famous try in which French captain Philippe Saint-André began a counterattack from near France’s goal line that ended with Jean-Luc Sadourny scoring.

Saint-André, who will be France’s coach when they start this year’s Six Nations competition against England at Stade de France on Saturday, memorably described the touchdown as the “try from the end of the world”.

And how unintentionally prescient those words turned out to be for they signalled the start of the new world. In the World Cup the following year, Lomu gained fame never before achieved by a rugby player, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation decided it was a game worth owning and rugby was never the same again.

All that in just 20 years. It makes you wonder what lies in store in the next 20?

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.