Boks' nirvana at Ellis Park ... it's been 26 years

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South Africa captain Francois Pienaar receives the Webb Ellis Cup from Nelson Mandela. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird - PA Images via Getty Images)
South Africa captain Francois Pienaar receives the Webb Ellis Cup from Nelson Mandela. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird - PA Images via Getty Images)

Francois Pienaar and Joel Stransky must run each other close as routine, prime recipients of the inevitable “what was it like?” question following the epoch-making Rugby World Cup final of 1995.

This anniversary day - it marks 26 years since the Webb Ellis Cup was hoisted by Springbok captain Pienaar at a cool but sun-baked Ellis Park - is especially unlikely to see the influential pair dodge the nostalgia-driven inquiry.

ON THIS DAY IN PICTURES | Springboks beat All Blacks to win 1995 Rugby World Cup

Some 63 000 spectators at the Johannesburg venue, only a year into post-apartheid democracy, and millions more watching on television, will never forget the image of the rugby skipper sharing the poignant moment with a leader of considerably greater gravitas, Nelson Mandela, after the nail-biting 15-12 triumph (following extra time), against southern hemisphere arch-rivals New Zealand.

Sean Fitzpatrick’s outfit, containing the almost superhuman-built, 20-year-old tournament sensation Jonah Lomu - later to succumb to illness at 40 - on their left wing, had been widely considered favourites to claim the coveted trophy on the day against opponents who had only latched onto the RWC phenomenon three tournaments after its 1987 inception.

Yet in a performance marked by the sheer bloody-minded resistance injected into them by mastermind Kitch Christie, the Boks rose to the always tight, largely close-quarters-fought occasion: pivot Stransky’s smart, assured dropped goal in the second period of that extra time made the critical difference between the protagonists.

Now a devoted mountain-biker and SuperSport pundit/commentator, his 15 points - three penalties, two drops - eclipsed the dozen amassed by his opposite number, Durban-born Andrew Mehrtens, in a try-less tussle, although South Africa had come the closest, in the first half of the “normal” match, to crossing the whitewash when Ruben Kruger thought he had squirmed over the chalk.

South Africas Joel Stransky drops the winning goal
South Africa's Joel Stransky drops the winning goal against New Zealand.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Years later, English referee Ed Morrison has reportedly admitted, after seeing the video plentiful times, that the tough flank probably did dot down, although he disallowed the score at the time.

On an occasion like this 26th anniversary, the mention of Kruger allows a fitting moment to reflect on the members of that Bok starting XV who have died since the epic showpiece, the country’s first of three World Cup successes to this point.

Apart from the former Grey College star (brain tumour), iron-willed scrumhalf Joost van der Westhuizen (motor neurone disease), Lomu’s gritty marker in the final James Small (heart attack) and smiling people’s favourite Chester Williams (also suspected heart attack) all fall into that category.

As has happened on each subsequent occasion (2007 and 2019) since the Boks won a World Cup, the national side of '95 squared up to the prestigious British and Irish Lions two years onward from RWC triumph.

Considering the fact that the 2021 Lions are due on these shores in a few days’ time, it is worth reflecting on the extent to which the Bok line-up had changed by the time Martin Johnson’s 1997 tourists took them on.

Just for one thing, there was already a new captain in the form of No 8 Gary Teichmann, with Pienaar having moved on, and other “casualties” in perusing the line-up for the first Test at Newlands - the Lions won 25-16, ahead of a 2-1 series victory for them - were Hennie le Roux, Williams, Stransky, Kobus Wiese, Balie Swart and Chris Rossouw.

But nobody can ever strip from the archive team-sheet any of that heroic XV, whether still with us or not, who did a changing nation proud on 24 June, 1995.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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