Mark Keohane, writing for IOL Sport, in a series reflecting on the 1995 Rugby World Cup
Newlands, the grand old lady of South African rugby, was supposed to host Scotland in July in the last ever international match before the Cape Town Stadium becomes home to rugby in the Western Cape in 2021. But Newlands, in all her glory, can never be removed from my psyche. She is and always will be the rugby darling of the Western Cape and one of the favourites in world rugby.
When I think of the 1995 World Cup, I think of Newlands.
Newlands was where it all started on May 25th, 1995. The late Nelson Mandela officially declared the World Cup open and welcomed the world to South Africa. That Thursday afternoon, basking in sunshine, Pieter Hendriks scored the classic winger try to set up South Africa’s win.
It was a special moment for the Springboks, but for Hendriks it would be the pinnacle of an international career that never matched his prolific domestic exploits with Transvaal.
That one moment at the 1995 World Cup, when Hendriks paused, stood up Wallabies great David Campese, accelerated and swerved past the pedestrian Campese, was my best try-scoring moment of the tournament. There were more dramatic tries, like Jonah Lomu running over Mike Catt for his first try in the World Cup semi-final at Newlands, but as a South African they didn’t get better than Hendriks’ effort on the Railway Stand of Newlands.
It was also significant for me that Hendriks created his magic on the Railways Stand side. As a schoolboy, that was where I always took up residence. Newlands, growing up, was like a second home to me. I got to see some grand battles, with Western Province and also the Springboks.
Western Province’s 12-11 win against the All Blacks in 1976 was my favourite schoolboy memory. My hero, flyhalf Robbie Blair, kicked the late touchline conversion to beat the men in black. As an adult, and a rugby writer, the Springboks win against the defending champion Wallabies at the 1995 World Cup, was the biggest moment.
I saw a Newlands crowd transformed into one of national unity. There may have been a sprinkling of gold jersey support, but if there was, then I have no recollection. Less than a month before the 1995 World Cup opener, Francois Pienaar’s Springboks, playing as a SA President’s XV, had edged Western Province. Joel Stransky had kicked a late drop goal and his match-winning heroics were booed. Everyone at Newlands that day wanted Western Province to win. On May 25th, they wanted only a Bok victory and Stransky provided all the magic.
Stransky scored a try, kicked a conversion, four penalties and a drop goal.
The World Cup final at Ellis Park on June 24th is obviously the defining moment of the 1995 World Cup, but when asked what my favourite moment was, then I always go back to that opening match at Newlands.
It all seemed so wrong, yet so right. It was a Thursday afternoon, Newlands was sold out, the sun was shining on May 25th in Cape Town and a Transvaal winger got a standing ovation scoring for the Springboks.
It was bliss.
Over the past month I’ve got to reminisce about the glory of the 1995 World Cup. I’ve revisited every match I attended and recalled my personal highlights.
It was 30 spectacular days, from that Thursday afternoon on May 25th, until the final whistle after 100 minutes at Ellis Park on June 24th. A total of 32 matches (24 pool stage and eight knock-out) were played within a month and 938 486 spectators made it to the respective grounds, at an average of 29 328.
Every Springboks match was a sell out with 60 000 packed into Ellis Park for the final and the full house signs going up twice in succession for the Springboks at Newlands against Australia and Romania.
It was a tournament that showcased South Africa’s ability to host the biggest of sporting events and it was an organisational coup for the tournament director Rian Oberholzer, who would become the CEO of Sanzaar in 1996, before returning to South Africa to head up the South African Rugby Union.
The tournament was the last ever amateur World Cup, but the professionalism of South Africa 1995 set the standard for those tournaments to follow in the professional era.
It was the tournament that properly introduced Jonah Lomu to the world and I can be that guy who says I was there when Jonah destroyed Ireland at Ellis Park and tortured England with four tries in the semi-final win at Newlands. A week earlier I had also been at Newlands when Rob Andrew drop-kicked Australia out of the World Cup.
I can also say I was there when Japie Mulder smashed Jonah in an early tackle and at Ellis Park in the final and when Joost van der Westhuizen and Mark Andrews combined to stop the thundering Lomu in the first half. I was also there when Andrew Mehrtens missed with a drop goal with 30 seconds to go in normal time and when Joel Stransky succeeded with a drop goal with seven minutes to go in the second half of extra time.
When someone asks me about the 1995 World Cup, I am privileged and grateful to be able to say that I was there when it started with Stransky’s drop goal at Newlands and ended with Stransky’s drop goal at Ellis Park.