Great Springboks-All Blacks rivalry as compelling as ever, says Sean Fitzpatrick

Sean Fitzpatrick. (Getty Images)
Sean Fitzpatrick. (Getty Images)
Simon Hoffman
  • Sean Fitzpatrick, the legendary All Blacks skipper, remains convinced that the Springboks' rivalry with the Kiwis is as strong as ever.
  • He believes that dynamic has been assisted greatly by both teams balancing nostalgia with a healthy dose of professionalism.
  • Fitzpatrick recounted how he and other senior players had to 'educate' the rookies in the 1996 All Black squad to not just focus on winning, but also appreciating tradition.

Legendary All Blacks skipper Sean Fitzpatrick believes history and the dawn of professionalism has combined brilliantly over the past 25 years to keep their rivalry with the Springboks compelling.

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"Like the Springboks, we have a long legacy in terms of the All Blacks. Once an All Black, always an All Black," the former hooker told a webinar hosted by radio broadcaster John Walland.

"When the game went professional, everyone said we're going to lose the spark of the All Blacks playing the Springboks because we'd meet two or three times a year. I don't see that, I think it's as strong as ever, which is tremendous."

Stung by their narrow loss to South Africa in the 1995 World Cup final, the New Zealanders returned for the three-Test tour at the conclusion of the inaugural Tri-Nations a year later and laid down a marker for their future ruthlessness.

They clinched the title at Newlands and then went on to win the series 2-1.

Even Louis Luyt, the controversial former SA Rugby president, made a gracious U-turn after copping a lot of flak for a boastful speech after the World Cup, where he claimed only isolation prevented the Boks from winning the 1987 and 1991 tournaments too.

After realising 12 months later that the All Blacks had embraced professionalism far better, he said: "Your commitment and discipline have set wonderful and exemplary standards. As a country, we salute and praise you."

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However, Fitzpatrick admitted that he actively had to "educate" some of the younger members of the 1996 squad, who were just keen on getting the job done and didn't quite realise the magnitude of the traditional rivalry.

"Back in 1996, we had to explain to the younger guys - the Christian Cullens of the world - what it meant to play against the Springboks," he said.

"Those guys hadn't grown up watching the All Blacks and South Africa take on each other."

Naturally, Fitzpatrick is all about embracing history and nostalgia.

"One of my most vivid memories is the 1976 tour, where (centre) Joe Morgan scored a try (in a 15-9 victory) in Bloemfontein. We couldn't believe those scorched grounds, we in New Zealand had never seen grass that brown. One of our great wingers, Bryan Williams, bandaged his knees just to avoid grass burns. These are memories we grew up with," he said.

"Given the legacy of the rivalry, we have a responsibility (to uphold it). I thought that I'd never go to South Africa as an All Black (because of isolation), let alone as a captain. And that's very special to me."

- Compiled by Heinz Schenk

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