Change in support of Boks was massive during 1995 - Andrew Mehrtens

Springboks singing the national anthem during the Rugby World Cup final
Springboks singing the national anthem during the Rugby World Cup final
Gallo Images

If there was one thing that struck the All Blacks during the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, it was the change in support for the Springboks from the start of the tournament to the end.

With the 25th anniversary of the iconic 15-12 win for the Boks over their traditional foes and so much being written about the historic day that the country experienced on June 24, 1995, little attention has been given to the All Black view, especially as they came into the game as heavy favourites and ended up gracious losers.

But while now it was clear that there was something much bigger going on in South Africa at that time, the players didn’t quite notice it in the same ways that South Africans did.

And for All Black flyhalf Andrew Merhtens, who narrowly missed a kick two minutes from the end of normal time that would have given his side the World Cup, the lasting memory of the tournament comes in the form of how the support changed for the Boks from start to finish.

He recalled the nerves of the day and meeting former State President Nelson Mandela shortly before the game.


“It was an awesome moment to meet a figure like that. An important moment in history. Personally I was trying to reconcile – this is an amazing moment, I’m meeting this amazing figure, but in a few minutes I need to concentrate, I need to get this kickoff 10 metres,” Merhtens laughs.

“Clearly we didn’t know what was going on in the background until we saw Invictus. I know it is a film adaptation but it was clear there was a lot going on in the background.

“What we did notice – what was tangible I guess, was the change from the start of the tournament to the final in the African population, who had traditionally been very strong supporters of the All Blacks.

“The guys had already told me when we get to Cape Town there will be a huge local support for the All Blacks, and there was. They just loved the All Blacks.

“But by the end of the tournament, it was a stark contrast – you know, going on the bus to the stadium on the Saturday to Ellis Park. Everybody from every hue in South Africa had turned into Springbok Supporters and we could really feel that.”


While New Zealand had swept all before them in the tournament so far, and were destined to do the same in the final, the Boks sheer physicality and will to win stopped them in their tracks.

As Mehrtens points out there was a lot of criticism afterwards from New Zealand, but it wasn’t that the All Blacks could change their game, they were simply stopped by a side that was not going to let them through.

“We got a lot of criticism from New Zealand afterwards, people saying we shouldn’t have moved the ball around and kept it tight. The problem with that is that we were very comfortable with our plan A – it had worked very well. We knew it worked and executed well,” he explains.

“Do you change that and go with a game that you aren’t used to and hasn’t been tested yet? So we just kept on trying. We kept on trying to throw punches. In hindsight that was what we needed to do.

“The problem was, with the Boks, everytime we threw a punch, they would take the punch with the head butt, and we would get a sore wrist, rather than you getting a sore nose.

“That continued throughout the game and all we could do was ultimately take our hats off to what had been a brilliant performance.

“I know that over the years South African teams have been accused of being one-dimensional and physical, it doesn’t mean that you can’t play. If you look at some of the amazing skilful players you have produced, right from when I started watching – Danie Gerber, Ray Mordt, the Du Plessis brothers.

“You could play but it is what is best to do. It was the same last year in 2019, when the Boks went into the final, they said there won’t be any subtlety. If you run hard at us, we are going to smack you even harder.

“We didn’t want to go to a plan B anyway.”

While Lomu was always a threat, the All Black flyhalf admitted that they perhaps overdid giving him the ball in the final, but considering the way he demolished England in the semifinal, it was understandable.

“He had that marvellous game in the semifinal. In those days wings would come off their wings less. Jonah was a guy you would want to get the ball to, because like anyone if he spent 20 minutes without the ball coming his way, naturally you would lose not only interest but you won’t be as activated.

“Giving him the ball was important, and important for the team, because he was obviously quite a big spark for us. In hindsight we tried to get the ball to him too much and too simply, but he was a big part of it.

“There weren’t gang tackles on Jonah, the guys were really quickly up on him, if one guy did happen to miss him, there was another one. They were quick and decisive hits, took him low and chopped him down. At the same time he was always going to be a threat.”

While Mehtens, who has a special bond with South Africa after being in Durban admits, it was nice to be part of history, he does not hide his disappointment on being on the wrong side of the result.

“It wasn’t much consolation. We were still disappointed like everybody was who has lost a big game in their life. We were still disappointed. But when you step aside and look at the iconic match in the course of human history, not just rugby history, it was nice to be part of that.”

Read this story on

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Voting Booth
Is the decision to give Aiden Markram the Proteas T20 captaincy the right one?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes! Markram is a natural leader
71% - 650 votes
No! He should have been left to focus on his batting
8% - 78 votes
I'm not sure yet. Let's see what results he brings.
21% - 190 votes
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.