The 1995 Rugby World Cup was no ordinary sporting event. Held in a nation being pieced back together after decades of separation, the 1995 edition of the World Cup, and most memorably its conclusion, provided a message of hope and peace.
For decades, South Africa had been shunned by the international sporting community due to apartheid laws with the Springboks rugby team banned from taking part in the first two editions of the Rugby World Cup.
But when segregation was ended at the start of the 1990s, South African rugby was given the chance to re-emerge onto the world stage in style by hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup - the first major sporting event staged in the country after apartheid.
The tournament’s arrival in South Africa was well-timed, providing a welcome distraction from rising tensions in the country, but the pressure was firmly on the Boks to perform in order to permanently improve the mood.
They did more than just that, though, as South Africa won the Rugby World Cup at the first time of asking, with the handing over of the Webb Ellis Trophy by the nation’s President Nelson Mandela to captain Francois Pienaar doing more for the rainbow nation than any words could.
|2023 Rugby World Cup
|Various stadiums across France
|Friday, 8th September - Saturday, October 28th
|How to watch
|New Zealand 5/2, France 3/1, South Africa 9/2, Ireland 5/1, Australia 10/1, England 11/1, Argentina 25/1
South Africa’s exile from international rugby ended in 1992 and it took the Springboks a couple of years to get back up to speed in a Test environment.
Although 1994 had been a largely positive year for the Boks, they still entered the 1995 World Cup ranked ninth and were seen as outsiders to dethrone reigning champions Australia.
Opinions quickly changed when South Africa lit the touch-paper on the tournament by stunning the Wallabies in the World Cup curtain-raiser at a raucous Newlands.
Kitch Christie’s men maintained the momentum gained from that memorable victory over Australia, cruising through their remaining pool matches against Canada and Romania to top their section.
Western Samoa didn’t prove too stiff a test in the quarter-final before a clash with a talented France side in the semi-finals in Durban.
Monsoon conditions threatened to force the postponement of the game, which would have seen the French advance due to their superior disciplinary record.
Que the arrival of five ladies with brushes, who between them helped to clear any standing water off the field of play and get the game on after a delay of an hour.
Ruben Kruger's try proved to be the difference between the sides as South Africa held off a late rally from France to advance to the final via a 19-15 win.
That set up a meeting with New Zealand in the final with the All Blacks favourites to take home the title off the back of crushing England in the previous round.
Jonah Lomu had run riot against England but a smothering South Africa defence managed to keep the rampaging wing quiet in a tight and tense title decider.
In a try-less final, the first at a World Cup to go to extra-time, it was the boot of South Africa fly-half Joel Stransky that would prove decisive.
Three penalties and two drop goals from Stransky, including the winning kick in extra-time settled the final in South Africa’s favour 15-12.
Then came the moment that symbolised the unity Nelson Mandela had been striving for as the South African president walked out to the centre of the field, wearing the jersey of Springboks skipper Pienaar.
The two men had become allies in the build-up to the event as Mandela had tried to get the entire population behind the Springboks, who had previously been viewed as a symbol of apartheid.
Mandela’s choice of attire was symbolic enough but handing over the trophy to Pienaar and the warm embrace between the two that followed sealed the political postcard moment.
The sight of the two men holding the Webb Ellis Trophy went a long way to healing the divide in South Africa created by segregation and for that reason alone, it will never be displaced as the Rugby World Cup’s most iconic moment.