When South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995, it was not only a victory for the Springboks but for the whole of the newly christened ‘Rainbow Nation’.
Re-admitted into the international sporting fold after decades of exile due to the oppressive apartheid regime, South Africa wasted no time in making their mark on Rugby’s pinnacle event.
South Africa was granted host nation status in 1995, having missed out on the 1987 and 1991 Tournaments, an inspired move as it turned out, not only for the marvellous spectacle that followed but for the way the Rugby World Cup helped the country’s transition into a new era.
On the day of the finals, President Nelson Mandela chose to wear the Springbok jersey, regarded by some as the ultimate symbol of the regime that imprisoned him. It was a gesture that inspired the whole nation to move onto a brighter future and inspired the South African team to victory over New Zealand.
Jake White then presided over a wonderfully successful period for South African Rugby, lifting the Springboks from number six in the world to number one, a run that also saw them become the second team, after Australia, to be crowned double World Champions. Bryan Habana was to be the star of RWC 2007, scoring eight tries – including four in one match against Samoa – as South Africa went on to beat England in the Final having already thrashed the same opposition 36-0 in the pool stages.
The Rainbow Nation comes alive – Winning the Rugby World Cup meant everything to South Africa. The achievement of Francois Pienaar and his teammates stretched far beyond normal sporting boundaries. As the Springbok captain famously said on the Ellis Park pitch after referee Ed Morrison had blown the Final whistle to signal a 15-12 win for the Boks, “We did not have 63,000 fans behind us today; we had 43 million South Africans.”
The Magnificent Seven – Where Chester Williams had been the talisman for the RWC 1995 win, it was fellow wing Bryan Habana who more than adequately filled the role 12 years later in France. The omens for success looked good as soon as the Eiffel Tower was coincidentally lit up in green and gold at the official opening of the Fanzone in Paris. South Africa coach Jake White had talked about taking ‘seven steps to glory’ on the eve of the Tournament, and his side duly obliged by winning all seven of their matches on the road to glory.
“When Nelson Mandela walked into the changing room wearing that Springbok Rugby jersey, it was done. We had to win that Game. Everybody expected him to wear a suit and tie. It changed the attitude and spirit of the team — and it changed the whole mind-set of the nation.” - Chester Williams on ‘the Mandela effect’.