South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins on Wednesday congratulated and thanked the Springbok squad involved in the 1995 Rugby World Cup as they celebrated the 20th anniversary of their epic World Cup Final win in Johannesburg.
The Springboks won their first Rugby World Cup on 24 June 1995, beating New Zealand, 15-12, in a memorable final played at Ellis Park. The result unleashed a tide of goodwill and nation-building across South Africa, which a year earlier had celebrated democracy after decades of racial segregation.
“We proudly celebrate this day as a rugby family, because this team helped Nelson Mandela unite a country,” said Mr Hoskins.
“It was a moment that astonished a nation and provided one of the foundation stones for the country we were to become. It was arguably the greatest day in our rugby history.
“Mr Mandela together with that Springbok team pointed the way to a new future for our people and 20 years later that day still has a massive resonance.
“We continue to salute the 1995ers for what they achieved as a rugby team and what they meant to a nation.”
Mr Hoskins said it was also a day to remember and honour the legacy of the fallen heroes from that day, President Mandela, the Springbok coach Kitch Christie and flanker Ruben Kruger.
“They will never be forgotten for their role they played in shaping the country and the game we love so much,” said Mr Hoskins.
The Springboks’ achievement and Mr Mandela’s support meant that the team enjoyed the full support of all South Africans for the first time. The newly elected South African President famously wore the jersey of Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, at the final, provoking chants of “Nelson, Nelson” from the predominantly white crowd.
Pienaar, in his winning speech, declared that the team had not the support of the 60,000 people in the stadium; it had had the support of 43 million South Africans across the country.
On Wednesday, Pienaar said: “I will never forget the emotions in the changeroom before the match, when Mr Mandela entered and how every one of us got ready for this huge match – some of them quiet, some of them jumping around in the change room, others bringing massive energy to the squad.
“We had a sense this was big, but never in our wildest dreams did we think that this game would have such an impact on every single person in South Africa.”
The 1995 squad reunited at the same venue on Wednesday, now called Emirates Airline Park, to re-live the event that shaped the history of the country and that of rugby forever.
All available members of the team joined up for a team photograph in front of a banner reading, ‘Still One Team, Still One Country’ recalling the famous 1995 team slogan, ‘One Team, One Country’, on the spot where flyhalf Joel Stransky kicked his famous match-winning drop goal.
In a social media first for South African rugby, supporters were able to relive the final on Twitter with live commentary by members of the team while the match was re-broadcast on SuperSport.
“They were a special team that achieved special things,” said Mr Hoskins. “This is their day and we honour them and thank them for a legacy from which we still benefit.”