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Dublin: 9°C Saturday 15 May 2021

It's 20 years to the day since Mandela presented the Springboks with the Webb Ellis Cup

A number of South Africa’s 1995 World Cup-winning squad gathered for a reunion at the famous ground in Johannesburg today.

Rugby Union - World Cup South Africa 95 - Final - South Africa v New Zealand - Ellis Park, johannesburg Pienaar lifts the Webb Ellis Cup on 24 June 1995. Source: Ross Kinnaird

SOUTH AFRICA CELEBRATED winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup today — 20 years on from that iconic day.

Joel Stransky slotted the extra-time drop-goal that delivered a 15-12 triumph over the New Zealand All Blacks on June 24 before a Johannesburg crowd including then President Nelson Mandela.

Stransky was among the survivors of that team who gathered at Ellis Park on a warm sunny southern hemisphere winter afternoon to remember the first of two Springbok World Cup titles.

They included wheelchair-bound scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen, who is battling motor neuron disease.

Mandela played a key role in the triumph by publicly backing the Springboks, a team viewed by the black majority of South Africans as a symbol of apartheid.

South African rugby boss Oregan Hoskins said it was a day to celebrate, but to also remember fallen heroes Mandela, coach Kitch Christie and flanker Ruben Kruger.

Mandela passed away in late 2013 aged 95 and Christie and Kruger succumbed to cancer many years before.

“We proudly celebrate this day as a rugby family because the team helped Nelson Mandela unite a country.

“It was a moment that astonished a nation and provided one of the foundation stones for the country we were to become.”

South Africa 1995 World Cup Rugby Former Springboks Chester Williams, left, and Joost van der Westhuizen at Ellis Park today. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Apartheid prevented South Africa playing in the first two editions of the World Cup won by New Zealand in 1987 and Australia four years later.

Despite home advantage, the Springboks were not the 1995 favourites, with poor build-up results, coaching changes and selection uncertainties.

But in Mandela, whose ANC party had swept to victory in the first multiracial South African elections during 1994, the Springboks had a master motivator.

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He regularly called Pienaar, visited the team, and attended the opening match in which the Springboks defeated the Australian Wallabies and the final.

Rugby Union - World Cup South Africa 95 - Final - South Africa v New Zealand - Ellis Park, johannesburg Pienaar receives the William Webb Ellis Trophy from Nelson Mandela. Source: EMPICS Sport

“Nelson, Nelson, Nelson,” chanted the capacity 60,000-plus crowd as he walked on to the pitch wearing a replica of the No 6 Pienaar jersey and a Springboks cap.

South Africa successfully contained giant New Zealand winger Jonah Lomu, who scored four tries against England in the semi-finals.

And the match was won six minutes from the end of extra-time when Van der Westhuizen passed to Stransky after a scrum, and the oval ball sailed between the posts.

Mandela handed the trophy to Francois Pienaar, a flanker and skipper of the 1995 team, and said: “Thank you, Francois, for what you have done.”

Pienaar replied: “No, Mr Mandela, thank you for what you have done.”

If you get the chance, ESPN’s ‘The 16th Man’ from the 30 for 30 series is a must-watch. It’s available on Netflix and here’s the trailer: 

Source: emma4thewin/YouTube

- © AFP, 2015

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