The Springboks' seven most iconic moments in Rugby World Cups down the years

The Springboks' seven most iconic moments in Rugby World Cups down the years

Springbok fans have been treated to many iconic moments at Rugby World Cups over the years. As we gear up for yet another global showpiece, here are seven moments that stand out above the rest.

1. The Boks win their first World Cup trophy - against all odds

It took just one drop kick for Bok flyhalf Joel Stransky to forever write his name in the history books – and help reconstruct a fledgling rainbow nation in the process.

The kick came in extra time of a tense World Cup final between the host nation South Africa and the mighty All Blacks at Ellis Park Stadium on June 24, 1995.

Against all odds, the host nation had made it all the way to the final in their first-ever Rugby World Cup, having only just emerged from sporting isolation a few years earlier.

Results in the lead-up to the tournament certainly did not suggest the Springboks were one of the favourites to take the trophy, but the team continued to gather more and more momentum as the tournament progressed and South Africans slowly started to believe a miracle might be possible. 

Waiting in the wings on the day of the final wearing a No 6 Springbok jersey was new South African president Nelson Mandela, but who would he hand the trophy over to – a smiling Francois Pienaar, or a grinning Sean Fitzpatrick?

Locked at 9-9 at the end of 80 minutes, it was left to extra time to decide the winner of the global showpiece.

Time was running out, and the trophy was there for the taking, but who would reach out and grab it?

Seven minutes from time, it was Stransky who stepped into the breach. From a scrum thirty metres out, he collected a long bullet pass from the late, great Joost van der Westhuisen and struck the drop goal that reverberated across a nation – sweet as could be – to secure victory for South Africa.

It set the stage for the famous handshake between captain Pienaar and President Mandela, and allowed the sport of rugby to become a symbol of hope, peace and unity for a rainbow nation trying to find its way.

Not bad for one drop kick.

2. South Africa beat France in Durban rain 

Before the Springbok side of 1995 pulled off their incredible World Cup victory over the All Blacks, they had to come through a brutal semi-final clash that was almost every bit as dramatic.

The match at Kings Park in Durban very nearly didn't get under way. The rain was coming down so heavily that the pitch was completely water-logged, and in most circumstances the game would have indeed been called off.

The problem for the Springboks was that, had the match been abandoned, France would have gone through to the final due to their superior disciplinary record.

So clearly that wasn't an option.

They had to play; and whether some pressure had been applied on referee Derek Bevan to make it happen or not, the history books show that the match went ahead after an hour-long delay and the Springboks emerged with a nailbiting 19-15 victory.

It was the late Ruben Kruger's pushover try that proved to be the difference between the two teams, although the Boks' lead nearly evaporated in the dying moments of the match when towering French lock Abdel Benazzi hurled himself at the line after collecting a loose ball spilled by Andre Joubert.

The try wasn't awarded, however, and the Boks - drenched to the bone and covered in mud to a man - came away with a famous win that kept their World Cup dream alive.

3 Chester Williams scores four tries against Samoa

Any international player would probably be delighted to score four tries in the World Cup over the course of their career, but in the quarter-final against Western Samoa in 1995, in front of a packed Ellis Park crowd, Chester Williams scored four in a single match.

The Paarl-born winger crossed the whitewash in the 16th, 34th, 46th and 76th minutes to help the Boks to a whopping 42-14 victory and write his name in the history books.

It would have been a huge achievement in any circumstance, but as the first black player to be selected for the Springboks since their readmission to the international game, it took on even greater significance.

While he was taken from us far too soon, Williams’ contribution to South African rugby will certainly never be forgotten.

4 Jannie de Beer's five drop goals v England

Jannie de Beer will forever be remembered as the man who put a record five drop goals past England at the 1999 World Cup.

Only in the starting line up as a replacement for the injured Henri Honiball, coach Nick Mallett knew he could at least rely on De Beer for an accurate boot.

And the 28-year-old certainly delivered on that promise in the quarter finals, as he slotted drop goal after drop goal to knock the stuffing out of a shell-shocked England side on the receiving end.

The flyhalf took aim at goal 12 times and found his target 12 times in the Boks' 44-21 win, but it was the five straight drop goal attempts in the space of 31 second-half minutes - all of which went over - that helped write De Beer's name in the history books.

5 Bryan Habana scores four tries against Samoa

While fellow once-in-a-generation talents like Fourie du Preez and Juan Smith were also decisive in helping Jake White's side become world champions that year, the Springboks were certainly given a huge boost by the performances of their gifted winger, who was at the height of his impressive powers.

Habana finished the competition with eight tries to his name, equalling the single-tournament record set by the great Jonah Lomu in 1999, and was subsequently named the 2007 IRB Player of the Year. 

Half of that record eight-try haul came during a single match - the Boks' opening game of the tournament against Samoa.

While all four tries were impressive, the first one, in particular, put his greatness on full display.

Collecting the ball just past the halfway line, the speedster seared infield, ignoring his support before changing angle from a standing start and leaving the Samoan defence for dead with a sudden injection of pace. By the time the cover defence had managed to react, Habana was already over the line. 

6 Boks lift second World Cup trophy - 12 years after the first

While the Boks' 1995 and 2019 World Cup wins arguably loom larger in the public consciousness for a variety of reasons, it's worth remembering just how superb Jake White's Springbok side of 2007 was in winning South Africa's second William Webb Ellis trophy.

Led by a core of all-time Springbok greats like John Smit, Os du Randt, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Juan Smith, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, Francois Steyn and Percy Montgomery, the Boks were blessed by a vintage group of talents at the peak of their powers. 

Highlights of the Boks' 2007 campaign include a stunning 36-0 victory over England during the group stages, spearheaded by an absolute masterclass performance from scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, perhaps the best No 9 ever to wear a Springbok jersey.

When the same two teams made it all the way to the tournament decider, there weren't many willing to bet against another Bok win, and while the final proved to be a far more cagey affair than the earlier 36-0 drubbing, the end result was exactly the same, as the Springboks clinched their second World Cup crown courtesy of a hard-fought 15-6 win.

7 Boks lift third World Cup trophy - 12 years after the second

As great as the Springbok sides of 1995 and 2007 were, 12 years later, it was time for a new group of players to forever write their name in the history books.

Few in the rugby world saw the South African team of 2019 as serious World Cup contenders. Whilst the team had rebounded superbly under new boss Rassie Erasmus after the utter lows under former coach Allister Coetzee, it hadn't been that long since some of those historic defeats, and it wasn't clear if this Springbok side had truly turned a corner or were merely flattering to deceive.

But just as in 1995 and 2007, a core of great Springbok players - including the likes of captain Siya Kolisi, Tendai 'Beast' Mtawarira, Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Faf de Klerk, Handre Pollard, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am and Willie le Roux - were about to come together and defy the odds.

The Boks' start to the tournament certainly didn't suggest another World Cup trophy was on the way, as they came off second-best to the All Blacks, but Erasmus was adamant they could bounce back from the loss - and bounce back they did.

Convincing pool wins over Nambia, Italy and Canada soon followed, as did a decisive 26-3 quarter-final win over the in-form host nation Japan and a narrow 19-16 result over Wales in the semi-finals.

That set up yet another final against England - the same team they defeated to lift the Cup back in 2007 - and this time the result was even more emphatic.

The Springboks hadn't managed to score a try in their previous World Cup final victories, but on this occasion they treated fans to two sparkling five-pointers. Who could forget Lukhanyo Am's no-look pass to Makazole Mapimpi for the opening try, or Cheslin Kolbe's superb solo effort for the second? 

These are moments that will live forever in Bok fans' memories and which put the result in the 2019 final beyond any question, as the Springboks completed a remarkable 32-12 victory to clinch the World Cup trophy for the third time in their illustrious history.

By Mike Schmitt