Springboks

1995 Rugby World Cup: Francois Pienaar lauds the influence of his two left wings

  • Various events came together for the Springboks to win the 1995 World Cup, but skipper Francois Pienaar singled out the contributions of his two left wings, Pieter Hendriks and Chester Williams.
  • As the country celebrates the 25th anniversary of that triumph, the ability of the duo to perform despite setbacks was laudable.
  • Pienaar expressed his sadness again that Williams, who passed away last year, isn't around to join in the festivities.

There were many moving parts that came together brilliantly to culminate in the Springboks' momentous 1995 World Cup triumph, but - 25 years on - Francois Pienaar believes it's vital to highlight the contributions of his two left wingers, Pieter Hendriks and the late Chester Williams.

Both men experienced wildly fluctuating fortunes during the showpiece event and dealt with it in a composed manner while summoning determination and skill to play starring roles in two moments that, according to their legendary captain, helped define South Africa's campaign.

"Our opening game was, in many ways, our most important one of the whole tournament," Pienaar reminisced at the Players' Fund's "Class of 95" virtual event.

"The Australian team were the reigning champions, undefeated in 12 months of Test match rugby and had a rockstar team. They came to the tournament as favourites, not the All Blacks as many people thought. They came here well-oiled and confident."

In hindsight, it's rather hard to believe that was the case as the Boks outplayed the Wallabies 27-18 at Newlands, with Hendriks memorably skinning direct opponent David Campese and flexing his right arm to score the opening try.

"Pieter's raised fist was the money shot of the first game, a tribute to (head coach) Kitch Christie's brilliance and Pieter's skill," said Pienaar.

"Coach Kitch said 'You must give Pieter the ball in space and he'll beat Campese'."

Hendriks' finish indeed bore the mark of a winger with a nose for the tryline, yet interestingly, that score was the former Lions star's first in seven Tests.

Not that Pienaar was surprised.

"In (1992), Pieter scored 43 tries (35 of them in competitive first-class rugby) in one season. And never did he score more than three tries in one game. At school, he held national record in the 110m hurdles for quite some time. 

"This guy was incredibly fast. If you actually look back at that play, how the ball moved and James Small's incredible pass to him, it's little wonder the stadium erupted," he said.

"We still had to keep on playing and Joel (Stransky) also score a magnificent try in the second half. I believe it was still our biggest and best victory at the World Cup."

Less than a fortnight later, things would turn sour for Hendriks after he was cited for kicking and punching during the infamous brawl against Canada in Port Elizabeth.

"That was the biggest disappointment. We were always going to be disciplined and were 20-0 up. The Canadians were physical and there was a scuffle that turned into a fight. That was probably my worst week as a captain. I sulked, I moped, I was angry," said Pienaar.

However, Christie and team manager Morne du Plessis sat down with their skipper and asked him: "Are we getting this show back on the road?"

For that, Pienaar decided Williams would be his trump card.

"It was actually bittersweet. Chester was the face of the campaign promoting the World Cup. The caption was 'The Waiting is Over'. But just a month before the opening game, Chester injured himself.

"But Pieter's suspension allowed Chester to come back into the side. What I did is ask Chester to share with us what's happening in South Africa," he said.

"One must remember we were sitting in hotels and training. We didn't know what was happening 'on the ground'. Chester spoke for about 15-20 minutes and shared with us how more and more people were shouting for us when they didn't in the past."

Two days later, Williams eclipsed the man he replaced with a magnificent haul of four tries in a comprehensive 42-14 victory over Samoa at Ellis Park in the quarter-finals.

"He spoke to us and then went on to score all those tries. What an incredible achievement. We really miss him in these times," said Pienaar, adding his sadness at the passing of Joost van der Westhuizen, Ruben Kruger, Small and Jonah Lomu.

- Compiled by Heinz Schenk

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