South Africa's players prepare for their Rugby World Cup semifinal against New Zealand under the guidance of coach Heyneke Meyer. Photo: Getty Images
South Africa are attempting to invoke the spirit of 1995 as they prepare for the task of derailing New Zealand’s bid for history in the 2015 Rugby World Cup semifinals. Ranked No. 1 in the world for the past six years and favorites to become the first country ever to retain the World Cup, even South Africa’s own coach has described the current All Blacks as the greatest team ever ahead of Saturday’s heavyweight matchup at London’s Twickenham Stadium.
It is an ominous challenge for South Africa, especially after they were stunningly upset by Japan in their opening match of the tournament. Seeking to use all the tools in their armory, the Springboks are calling upon the memory of their most famous victory.
In 1995, only a year removed from the election of Nelson Mandela as president following the dismantling of apartheid, South Africa made its grand return to the sporting stage as hosts of the Rugby World Cup. Improbably, and in fairytale fashion, the South African team, despite having only recently returned to international competition after years of enforced isolation, defeated powerhouse New Zealand in the final. Mandela would hand the trophy to captain and white Afrikaner Francois Pienaar in what became the defining image of a new united nation.
The rugby team, long the preserve of white South Africans, was fueled by the new support, and on the morning of the final ran through the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton. Now the 2015 vintage will attempt to replicate that feeling as they seek to upset the All Blacks once again.
“On the morning of the 1995 RWC final, they famously ran in Sandton, ” read a statement from South Africa Rugby. “Twenty years later, the world champion Springboks are running again… through the streets of London.”