Arnold Geerdts writes World Cup Rugby
Bok fever currently has the whole of South Africa in a firm grip and over the past months and weeks, unforgettable William Webb Ellis moments have once again been recorded. On the eve of the Boks’ first match against Scotland, we look back at some of those goosebumps from past World Cups, because how do we move forward if we don’t know where we’ve come from?
Especially the first World Cup tournament (for us) in 1995 was special. After almost 30 years, so many new stories have only now come out. Like the one Hennie le Roux tells about his “shaking” rugby jersey.
“When I looked down at my sweater, which was shaking like a reed in the wind after the singing of the national anthem, I wondered: Am I shaking with fear, or what?” says Le Roux, who played at Newlands center in the opening match against Australia.
“Then I realized it was the noise of the spectators and the waves of sound that made my Green and Gold tremble so much. It was just breathtaking.”
It’s the match where the Boks confirmed that they were without a doubt to be reckoned with during that first World Cup tournament. Who will ever forget Pieter Hendricks’ flowing hair, massive strides and clenched fist over the goal line when he made David Campese and his down-there cronies grope for air?
Or how about hacker Chris Rossouw’s memories of the final at Ellispark. “We didn’t know that Jumbo plane was going to come over, nobody told us,” says Rossouw. “We didn’t know what it was, the noise from the plane so low on the ground was deafening and we all got a little scared in the dressing room. Just as we recovered from that, Madiba walked in wearing Francois Pienaar’s number six jersey and a big smile on his face. It was masterful. Even then, on one level, I felt ever so slightly as if we were in control of things.
“From the moment Roger Whittaker’s song ‘I don’t believe in if anymore’ played on the bus, to that ‘drop’ from Joel, it was just an unforgettable day.”
And then there is an anecdote that few people know. Gysie Pienaar, Bok legend who was in the team’s management in ’95, says: “After the captain’s training on the Friday before the final, the All Blacks were booked directly after us to come and let loose at Ellis Park.
“However, after our run, Joel Stransky asked me to throw him some balls so he could practice his drop kicks. When the All Blacks were right under the posts, Joel kicked a ball over from the exact spot he would do it the next day. All of them followed the ball so high and pure with their eyes over their heads. I will never forget it.
“And that kick is the one that would eventually win for our ‘Old Bill’ in extra time. Who would have guessed it then?”
Just ask anyone: Where were they when this happened in ’95? When South Africa won against all expectations in its first World Cup rugby tournament. Or where were they in 2007, when John Smit’s team in France beat the pale legs so overwhelmingly to win our second title? When Percy Montgomery knocked over kick after kick with metronomic precision? Or when Cheslin Kolbe’s “twinkle toes” left the English in Japan staring with open mouths during the final in 2019 and our forwards became the “bomb squad”?
And now we are – once again – on the eve of more such moments that decades later will still be etched in our memory. I am firmly convinced that we will have another (fourth) Webb Ellis moment to remember forever!