Mark Andrews' surprise RWC switch: I had to get white board lessons on playing No 8

Mark Andrews of South Africa is tackled by George Smith (left) and Daniel Herbert of Australia during the 2001 Tri-Nations match between South Africa and Australia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 28 July 2001.
Mark Andrews of South Africa is tackled by George Smith (left) and Daniel Herbert of Australia during the 2001 Tri-Nations match between South Africa and Australia at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 28 July 2001.
Dave Rogers/Allsport/Getty Images
  • People now look back at Mark Andrews' switch to No 8 in the final weeks of the 1995 World Cup as a stroke of genius, but it was an immensely nerve-wracking time for the legendary Springbok lock.
  • He had been convinced that he would be dropped after telling coach Kitch Christie initially that he couldn't play in the loose trio.
  • Despite the surprise of the move, some of Andrews' teammates immediately started giving him lessons on a white board in the team room about playing in the position.

Mark Andrews can rightly be considered one of the unsung heroes of the Springboks' 1995 World Cup triumph, specifically because the legendary lock had to learn how to play eighthman ... two weeks before the final against the All Blacks.

Coach Kitch Christie's now famous switch of the 77-cap second rower from No 4 to No 8 was a shrewd way of gaining an extra advantage for the South Africans at the back of the line-out (remember, lifting was still outlawed at the time) as well as adding extra beef to in the pack in the form of Hannes Strydom.

Yet it was a nerve-wracking fortnight for Andrews, who jokingly admits it was "the most terrible two weeks of my life".

"I had a feeling during the World Cup that the coach wanted weight and size in the pack," he told a webinar hosted by radio broadcaster John Walland.

"It's a Sunday night after the quarter-final against Samoa at the Sunnyside Hotel (in Parktown). The phone rings and it's (team manager) Morne du Plessis. If you were in the side and you were asked to go see the manager on a Sunday, it was probably to be told that you were being dropped because the side got announced on a Monday."

Walking down the passage, Andrews was feeling nothing but despair.

"I'm done, I'm going to have to tell my family, who brought tickets for the semi-final against France and making the trek up to Durban that I'm not going to be playing."

He walked into Du Plessis' room, who had been joined by Christie and assistant coach Gysie Pienaar. 

Christie was typically forthright in asking Andrews a question he didn't expect.

"He looked at me and asked: 'Marky, can you play flank?'

"I told him no and he asked me if I'm sure. I say I can't. He replies 'pity'."

Confused, the waterpolo star at Selborne College returned to his room and was confronted by an anxious Joel Stransky, his roomate.

"Roomz, how'd it go?"

"I don't know Joely."

"What do you mean? Are you playing? Are you in or out?"

"I don't know. Coach asked me if I can play flank."

"What did you say?"

"I said I can't."

"If coach asked you if you can play flank it probably means he's got a plan at lock for Kobus (Wiese) and Hannes."

"O jeez."

15 minutes later, the phone rang again with Du Plessis summoning Andrews to his room.

"I'm walking down the passage again and now I'm thinking I'm getting axed. I've stuffed it up by saying I can't play flank," he said.

"I open the door and it's the same scenario again. 'Marky, can you play flank?' This time I tell him I can absolutely play flank. So coach Kitch turns to Morne and says: 'I told you he can play eighthman, he's built like you. He'll be fantastic.'."

Stransky, ever doting, asked Andrews how the second meeting went and, ironically, expressed his shock at Andrews this time agreeing to being able to play in the backrow.

The next day, Christie announced that his previous starting lock was going to wear the No 8 jersey.

"I went to him afterwards and told him that I'd actually last played in the position back in my Under-15 year," said Andrews.

"I told him I don't think this is a very good idea. But he looked at me and said not to worry, I'll be fine."

Adding some sense of comfort was the brilliant response of his teammates, who took him under their wing.

"About half-an-hour before our training session that day, Rudolf Straeuli (a specialist eighthman) told everyone that training will be 30 minutes later because he wanted a word with me," said Andrews.

"So Rudolf, Francois (Pienaar) and Morne stood around a white board in our team room and started teaching me to play eighthman the week before a World Cup semi-final."

As it turned out, Christie's gambit paid off close to perfectly. 

- Compiled by Heinz Schenk

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