One vehicle driver got a surprise on the evening of the World Cup Final in 1995, when he found the captain of the winning team thumbing a lift – it was truly a World Cup which resounded, and even spawned a film.
Francois Pienaar could not quite believe the interest new South African President Nelson Mandela showed in the team before its first ever World Cup match, against none other than defending champion Australia. The Springboks dominated, and cruised through the pool phase with only one minor issue – James Dalton’s red card against Canada. This was to become curiously relevant.
The quarters were notable for a repeat of the previous Final, between England and Australia. Australia never led from early on but kept pegging England back, getting it to 22-22 heading into the final minute. Step forward that man Rob Andrew again, with a monster drop from the left side to put England through.
He would end up, maybe, wishing he hadn’t. In the semi-final, the English defence faced humiliation from the moment New Zealand’s Jonah Lomu literally ran over Mike Catt. Two tries already conceded, England still hadn’t registered when All Black forward Zinzan Brooke calmly unleashed a forty-yard dropped goal.
With one semi a metaphorical wash-out, the other was nearly a literal wash-out – and suddenly that earlier red card mattered. If the game were deemed drawn, for any reason, disciplinary record would decide it and South Africa would be out of its own World Cup. The game was played forty minutes late in a swimming pool, with France finally having to surrender while only four points down and camped on the Springbok line.
The final was not thrilling but was tense. At 9-9 going into extra-time, with Lomu stopped by courageous Springbok tap tackling, South Africa’s disciplinary record looked once again as if it may prove costly. At 12-12 at half-time in extra-time, this was even more so. Joel Stransky was left to step up, and ensure the happy ending, the celebrations – and the hitch hike of champions.