In 2007, the Springboks were crowned World Champions in Paris after seven magnificent weeks. Mark Keohane reflects on his time in France in 2007 and predicts it will be the same story in 2023.
I was based in an apartment in Bastille for the 2007 World Cup in France. It belonged to a French rugby writer, and I got to live like a local for seven weeks. It was magnificent.
France is a favourite for me – the cities, the people and the culture.
Add the rugby, an out of sorts French team and the Springboks running hot, and very quickly, the locals had adopted the Boks as their home team.
There was massive support for the Boks throughout the tournament and they were the most popular squad. They played great rugby, scored heaps of tries and Eddie Jones, as the Boks’ technical adviser, proved the great entertainer at press conferences.
Bastille was the perfect location, and my daily runs would take me past Notre Dame, along the banks of the Seine and include passing the Louvre, Modern Art Museum, Jardin de Tuileries, Place de La Concorde and Centre Pompidou.
I’d switch up my runs and for the best part of seven weeks my backdrop was the many iconic sights of Paris.
My rugby moment, even bigger than the winning final, is the Springboks’ 36-0 pool win against England at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
I’d been to the Stade many times, as a rugby journalist and as the Springboks communications manager, and I never thought it could get better than the 1999 World Cup quarter-final when Jannie de Beer drop-kicked England out of the tournament. What poetry to be in the stands and watch De Beer aim five drop goals in the space of 30 minutes and succeed with all five.
In 2007, it was a different kind of rugby poetry and more brutal in its delivery. But it was as stunningly beautiful to witness England getting zero and South Africa getting 36.
Frans Steyn, then just 20 years old, blasted a penalty which could have gone from one suburb to another and hit the post with a drop goal equally as long in distance. Jaque Fourie was denied a five-pointer and the Boks were also held up on one occasion.
It could have been 50 points, but what had all of Paris’ rugby family cheering that night was not so much the 36 the Boks scored but England’s zero.
Bok coach Jake White had the luxury of replacing Bakkies Botha on 53 minutes, giving John Smit and Os du Randt a breather on the hour and emptying the bench on 71 minutes.
JP Pietersen’s brace, Percy Montgomery’s comfort off the kicking tee and complete dominance in every phase made it the ultimate visit to the venue.
I’d be back at the Stade de France for the semi-finals and the Springboks’ 15-6 win against England in the final.
In between there was the express visit to Marseilles for the quarter-finals to watch England send Australia home and the Boks finish off a fiery Fiji.
Jake White treated me to a great lunch and a barrel of beer at the port in Marseilles on the Thursday preceding the weekend playoff. The lunch started at brunch time and finished when the sun had set. It was that kind of moment.
The TGV from Paris to Marseilles is a three-and-a-half hour speed bullet, and it is just a 10 minutes walk through the Quartier Belsunce to the old port, where I stayed. I was back in Paris’ Gare de Lyon station by 9am on Monday morning. Glorious.
The French train strikes could not spoil the party and my mate and seasoned rugby writing colleague Gavin Rich and I walked from the Stade to the Boks’ hotel in Bercy, Paris. It took us two hours to get there and on arrival at 3am, we got an invite to join the Boks in their team room.
An hour later Jake asked me if I wanted to hold the Webb Ellis Cup. Up we went to his room, flanked by the security who carried the golden keys to rugby’s Holy Grail, and just after 4am, I hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup into the heavens along with Jake. You bloody beauty!
France 2007: It was my rugby heaven and hearing French rugby lovers so enthusiastically and regularly chant ‘Afrique du Sud trente-six et Angleterre zéro’ soothed the soul.