The Springboks have enjoyed many magical moments on the biggest stage of them all since they shook up the world in their triumphant maiden appearance in the global showpiece in 1995, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
As excitement continues to build for the 2019 Rugby World Cup that kicks off in Japan on September 20, we take a trip down memory lane in a six-part series in which we highlight the Springboks’ most memorable World Cup moments.
Twelve years after their maiden triumph on home soil, the Springboks reclaimed the coveted Webb Ellis Cup in France. When Jake White was appointed head coach in 2004, following the previous year’s disastrous World Cup campaign, his end goal was global supremacy in 2007.
It was an ambitious goal, with the Springboks in an all-time low sixth place in the world rankings and with White having to pick up the pieces and build an all-new squad. That dream became reality in Paris, where a by then transformed, settled and vastly experienced Springbok team led by John Smit defeated England in the final to clinch their second world title.
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The Springboks kicked off their campaign against Samoa at Parc Des Princes where Bryan Habana emulated Chester Williams’ performance 12 years earlier as he scored four tries in the 59-7 win. His two first-half tries were especially memorable as they were stunning solo efforts.
The Springbok speedster was lethal throughout the tournament and went on to emulate another legendary left-wing as he equalled All Blacks great Jonah Lomu’s record of eight tries in a single World Cup.
Much was riding on this encounter at the Stade de France. A virtual Pool A decider, the winners would earn the high road to a possible final, while the losers would potentially have to beat both the Wallabies and All Blacks to book their place in the decider. England were the defending champions as well, so both sides were seeking to make a statement.
The Springboks completely blew the English out of the water as they stormed to a 36-0 win. It’ll take some doing for future generations to eclipse this near-perfect outing as the most clinical Springbok performance in World Cup history. It was the first time England were shutout at a World Cup and set White’s Springboks on their road to glory.
Simply put, Du Preez’s masterclass in the above-mentioned record 36-0 rout was the best scrumhalf showing in World Cup history and one of the best of all-time. The virtuoso’s vision, decision-making and game management – all the qualities that saw him being widely regarded as the world’s best scrumhalf at the time – were on display as he orchestrated England’s annihilation.
He created all three of the Springboks’ tries and bossed the game as a true general. Making it all the more impressive was the fact that Du Preez had had very little game time heading into the tournament having missed most of the Super Rugby season through injury.
Having survived a similar scare in the pool game against Samoa, the Springboks stared shock elimination in the face at the hands of a spirited Fijian side for a tense period in the second half of the quarterfinal clash in Marseille.
The Wallabies and All Blacks had been dumped out of the tournament the previous day by England and France respectively, and Fiji threatened to pull off another upset when they, despite being down to 14 men at that stage, rallied from 20-6 down to level the scores with two match-changing converted tries.
The resurgent Islanders came within a fraction of taking the lead when Kele Rawaqa looked in for all money, but the desire of JP Pietersen, following an inspirational speech by Smit, saw the Springbok wing force the Fiji lock into touch. That key cover tackle killed Fiji’s momentum and sparked the Springboks back to life as they went on to regain control of the contest and ultimately clinch a 37-20 win.
The final produced the most memorable moment of the entire tournament. Just after half-time, with the Springboks leading 9-3, eventual Man of the Match Victor Matfield made a try-saving tackle on England outside centre Matthew Tait, but the Springboks weren’t off the hook.
Quick recycled ball was shipped blind to Mark Cueto, who went over in the corner. However, Danie Rossouw had gotten a hand on the left-wing and replays showed that the ever-present eighthman had made just enough contact with Cueto to nudge his left foot into touch before he grounded the ball. Australian TMO Stuart Dickinson ruled as such and the try was disallowed. The Springboks never surrendered their lead and went on to triumph 15-6.
Like Habana following in Williams’ footsteps, Percy Montgomery showed similar heart as the man who wore the Springbok No.15 jersey in 1995. Andre Joubert had played through the play-offs with a broken hand, an injury he suffered in the quarterfinal win over Samoa in Johannesburg.
In Paris, Montgomery – who, as the tournament’s top points-scorer, had played a pivotal role in South Africa’s surge – played the last 45 minutes of the final with torn knee ligaments and kicked two of his four penalties during that time – with one functional leg. In a tryless final, those kicks were gold, and Percy’s perseverance is now the stuff of legends.
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Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at SARugby.com and senior staff writer at Rugby365.com, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.