The South African national team adopted the slogan 'one team, one nation' for the tournament. Rugby union, eternally seen as a 'white man's sport', sought to unite a country that had been racially divided for nearly half a century. South Africa, as host nation, opened the tournament against defending champions Australia. With the weight of the nation's expectations on their shoulders the South Africans secured a 27-18 victory in the euphoric atmosphere at Newlands in Cape Town.
Forty-five teams fought it out in the qualifying process to guarantee a place in the 16-side tournament. Wales, the only Five Nations country to have to do so, qualified after one-sided, high-scoring games against Portugal and Spain before entering a second qualification phase. Wales won a closer match with Romania 9-16, thanks to a superb try from Ieuan Evans, and a 29-19 victory over Italy in Cardiff put them into the supposedly easier Pool C. Other qualifiers for the tournament included the Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Argentina, Canada, Japan, Romania, Italy and Tonga. England, France, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Western Samoa and Australia automatically qualified for the competition having reached at least the quarter-final stage in the tournament four years previously.
The pool stages failed to present any giant-killing encounters as had happened in the previous rugby world cup. In Pool A, hosts South Africa and defending champions Australia made the quarter-finals. Canada could not replicate their superb performance in the previous tournament, and limped out of the competition alongside underdogs Romania, who only achieved nine points in total in the group stages. Pool B saw England and the impressive Western Samoa graduate to the next stage in the competition, whilst Italy and Argentina failed to progress.
Pool C threw up the most striking result from the pool stages. New Zealand, albeit a second-string team, dominated Japan in a 145-17 rout. This remains the highest score and biggest winning margin in the history of the Rugby World Cup. Inevitably, Japan had an early exit and the All Blacks made the quarter-finals, as did Ireland, who put Wales out of the competition. In another disappointing championship for Wales, despite a 57-10 trouncing of Japan, this was the second successive Rugby World Cup in which Wales made a premature departure. As host nation in four years time the Welsh did not have the anxiety of qualifying to worry about; all apprehension could be instead reserved for the state of Welsh rugby.
Pool D will be forever remembered with sadness. Tragically, in the Côte d'Ivoire's loss to Tonga, winger Max Brito was paralysed following a neck injury in a sixth-minute tackle. Both teams went home after the pool stage, with France and Scotland booking their quarter-final places.
The quarter-finals were dominated by the larger rugby nations; only Western Samoa could be classed in the category of 'the underdogs'. After qualifying against South Africa, for the second successive tournament they were to reach no further than the quarter-final stages. The Springboks conquered 42-14 amid a game full of fierce, and questionable, Western Samoan tackling as seen four years previously.
England, grand slam winners of the Five Nations Championship just a few months prior to the start of the Rugby World Cup, again encountered Australia in the latter stages of the competition. They had met in the final in the previous tournament and had not met since on the international stage. In the stand-out quarter-final of the championship the match proved captivating, featuring two equally matched and highly-motivated teams. England took an early 13-3 lead but Lynagh, one of the survivors and stars of the Rugby World Cup in 1991, levelled the scores soon after the intermission with his precision kicking. In this game he would reach the 900 points-mark, the first man to reach this tally in Test rugby. Australia pulled away with a try, but Rob Andrew, a match for Lynagh, steadily brought the scores even once more at 22-22. Three minutes into injury time following a superb English drive, Andrew was passed the ball. He set up for a drop goal attempt and triumphed, as did the rest of the England camp, as they sailed into the semi-finals 25-22 and sent the defending championships out of the tournament.
France met Ireland in the only quarter-final to feature two Northern Hemisphere nations. In a dismal match the French eventually dominated the play in the final quarter to take the score to 36-12. The French manager summed up his team's attitude and performance when he commented: "We may at some stage be able to drink champagne, but for the moment, we are struggling to get the cork out of the bottle".
The remaining quarter-final saw New Zealand overcome Scotland 48-30 in Pretoria. In a free-flowing game in which the might of Jonah Lomu was unleashed, the All Blacks notched up six tries to Scotland's three. Gaining his one hundredth cap, captain Sean Fitzpatrick scored one of the six whilst Andrew Mehrtens secured 23 points for the Kiwis. Despite putting thirty points on the board, Scotland for the second time in the tournament's history went home at the quarter-final stage at the hands of the New Zealand.
In the first of the Northern-Southern Hemisphere semi-final clashes to be held, the hosts took on the French. In unplayable conditions, after the torrential rain had turned the pitch into a lake-like semblance, the Springboks ground out a 19-15 win. Joel Stransky took South Africa into the lead with a penalty and soon after the Springboks crossed for the only try of the game. Ruben Kruger got the score and Stransky converted to push the lead to 10-0. Thierry Lacroix slotted over two penalties to reduce the gap to four points at the interval. In the second half Stranksy added three more penalties and Lacroix also gained another nine points for his country. Despite growing French dominance the Springboks retained their lead and entered a Rugby World Cup final for the first time.
The second semi saw New Zealand pitted against the team, the All Black camp had admitted, they feared most: England. Having lost to England 15-9 in 1993, the New Zealand team were wary of a determined, on-form English side. Despite this, the match as a contest was over inside ten minutes. The magnificence of the powerful All Blacks start completely devastated England. The New Zealand dominance in the opening minutes meant that England failed to establish themselves and fought to achieve a foothold for the rest of the game. The first New Zealand try came after a mere two minutes. Lomu was released; he strode like an animal towards the line, pawing away Rory Underwood, outpacing captain Will Carling and running straight through Mike Catt to touch down for the first five points of the match.
On the re-start Walter Little gathered up a loose ball from Bachop. This quickly made its way to Josh Kronfeld, and soon after was deposited for another All Black try. The normally dependable Rob Andrews missed a penalty and drop goal before the New Zealand rout continued. Carling cleared into New Zealand territory but the ball was snatched by Zinzan Brooke, dropping a goal where Andrews had failed. Lomu scored his second try of the game; the All Blacks had scored 25 points in the same of minutes. Andrew secured England's first three points before the half-time whistle but with tries in quick succession from Lomu, again, and Bachop shortly after the interval the all Black lead was stretched even further.
England did recover to some extent in the second half. Carling and Underwood each scored a brace of tries and Andrew secured three conversions. His opposite number Mehrtens converted only three of six tries but he added a penalty and drop goal for good measure. Lomu finished his personal rout of the English with his fourth try of the match. The final score saved England's blushes at 29-45 but betrayed the way in which they had been utterly crushed in the first half. England limped out of the 1995 tournament, unable to make the final as they had done four years previously.
Lomu's four-try wreckage of England sent shock waves through World Rugby. New Zealand commentator, Keith Quinn, was famously reduced to gasps as Lomu shattered England's backline. Lomu, through his spectacular strength and powerful attacking became the star player the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
England made their way into the third place play off with France. In previous tournaments this match had proved to be a mediocre event with neither team eager to play. In order to create a sense of occasion the match had an added incentive: the carrot of automatic qualification for the 1999 tournament was placed on the stick for the two teams, as after this tournament only the hosts, finalists and third place nation would have their place guaranteed.
However, the match turned out to be as damp a squib as the previous two affairs. Lacroix and Andrews gained only three points for their sides in the first half and after 50 minutes of play each player had only added a further penalty apiece. Lacroix secured a further three points but, possibly due to the growing boredom and resultant slow hand-clapping from the crowd, France stepped up a gear. A midfield run from Laurent Cabannes set up Philippe Saint-Andre. From a line-out following a tackle on the French captain, France drove forward and Olivier Roumat secured the score. Emile Ntamack, having had a hand in creating the first try, secured France's second. By-passing Underwood and Catt, just as Lomu had done in England's previous game, the flanker, easily the best player of the match, touched down. With Andrew's third penalty the only other English score of the match, France gained a 9-19 win that took them into the 1999 Rugby World Cup via a direct route.
The final between South Africa and New Zealand was staged at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Many felt, none more so than the South African camp, that the Rugby World Cup Champion title was lessened in superiority whilst the South Africans were in the wilderness. South Africa now had their chance to back-up this statement.
Arguably, events following the result were more significant than the actual game. No tries were scored during the match but this did not diminish the tense atmosphere and climactic finish. The South Africans played a largely defensive game. Due to the strength from Kruger, captain Francios Pienaar and van der Westhuizen, the expansive attacks from New Zealand were repeatedly closed down. Stransky had secured nine points for his team before the interval whilst Mehrtens gained only six. He amended this at the mid point of the second half with a drop goal taking the score to 9-9. Yet crucially he failed to take his team into the lead after missing an attempt at goal just before the close of normal play.
As referee Ed Morrison heralded full time the teams headed into extra time for the first time in a Rugby World Cup final. Mehrtens made amends for his miss by striking a long-range penalty in the first period. As the minutes slowly passed, Stransky levelled for the South Africans. Seven minutes from time it was Stransky who scored the final points of the match. From thirty metres out he struck the drop goal, securing South Africa's victory and the Rugby World Championship crown.
President Mandela, wearing a Springbok cap and jersey adorned with Pienaar's No.6, presented the Web Ellis Cup to the South African captain. In front of a capacity crowd the former political prisoner of twenty-six years, jailed for his anti-apartheid activities, wore the green and gold jersey that had previously been a symbol of white superiority. This historic image of a Mandela presenting the trophy to the Francois Pienaar encapsulated the country's vision of a rainbow nation together with their slogan, 'one team, one nation'.
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