Part 2 of 5 looking at those Rugby World Cup exits.
The four years leading up to the 1995 World Cup were pretty patchy. Australia had the better of Bledisloe campaigns, and there were losses to England and France (two – nil at home). Ironically, the only side of the major contenders they did not lose to in that time was South Africa.
But things started to click just before the campaign started. There had never been much wrong about the forward pack, but there was a problem with the backs.
But on the eve of this tournament the selectors went with the gamble of bringing in newcomers Kronfield (#7), Mehrtens, and Osbourne; along with the recalls for halfback Bachop and left wing Lomu who proved to be the star of the tournament as the sport reached out for a Poster Boy as it entered into the Professional Era.
Toe-curling associated promotional campaign:
Still not this time.
The Easy Stuff:
Trivia buffs will know that this was the only Grand Slam ever achieved on neutral territory. Wales and Ireland in the group stage, Scotland and England in knockout matches. And in the middle of this slam the dirtrackers racked up 145 points against Japan.
But it was not just the matches that did it; it was the way the victories were achieved. This was end-to-end rugby. In every match of the Grand Slam there were tests that started from inside the All Black 22. The Guardian pointed out that this was rugby’s equivalent of the Dutch Total Football sides of the 1970s. This was Total Rugby.
The peak of this was the Semi Final against England. The same England who had beaten New Zealand 18 months previously and had made a bit of a thing about it. The same England that included Tony Underwood who thought it was a good idea to wink at Jonah Lomu after the national anthems had been played.
After two minutes Lomu had walked over Catt to score the first try. From the kick-off there was a length of the field try and it was game over.
In case you’d forgotten…Uh, Uh
Jeremy Guscott was later criticised for missing a tackle on Little in the second try, but the thought of making a try saving tackle just out from the opponent’s goal-line was a bit of an alien concept for Northern Hemisphere sides at the time.
To rub in alien concepts, No 8 Zinzan Brooke nailed a drop goal from the touchline 45 metres out in a first half performance as close to perfect as you could get.
Like those Dutch football sides of the 1970s, the best side in a World Cup can find playing the hosts in a final one step too far.
This was South Africa re-emerging as the Rainbow Nation, but there was a lot of the Afrikaans Wagon Wheel about this final. They flew a jumbo jet over the ground just before the anthems, and Mandela turned up wearing a Springbok No 6 jersey. Only one person could get away with that sort of jingoism.
The All Blacks, we were later to learn, had players who were suffering from food poisoning but, more importantly, turned their back on the style of rugby that had got them there in the first place. There was also a hint of coming down from the performance against England.
Andrew Mehtrens, who had previously run down the Scots for a 90 metre try in this competition, decided that drop goals were the answer. Six of them in fact. All of them missed. Joel Stransky tried one; in extra time, and it went over.
South Africa 15 – 12 New Zealand AET
Where do we start?
A movie was made; a Clint Eastwood movie in fact.
But that’s not the aftermath remembered in New Zealand. It’s all about Suzie; the alleged waitress who poisoned the All Blacks in varying locations of the tea urn at the hotel, a kebab shop, and a Chinese takeaway.
Coach Laurie Mains even went to the effor of hiring a Private Investigator to sort all this out, but there was no smoking gun.
However, the legend has grown and grown over the years, and no visit to South Africa by any New Zealand sporting team is complete without an obligatory Suzie reference.
Even in the Invictus reviews it’s the hot topic of conversation.
Next: Painted planes and testicles