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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK

1995: The Rainbow Nation

Nelson Mandela crowns South Africa champions at the first time of asking

South Africa's president Nelson Mandela presents Francois Pienaar with the Webb Ellis trophy
When Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey, handed South African captain Francois Pienaar the Webb Ellis trophy at Ellis Park on June 24th 1995, a new era in the sport was confirmed.

The Springboks had beaten New Zealand 15-12 in the final and there is little doubt the South Africans had been destined to win.

[ image: Joel Stransky drops the winning points at Ellis Park]
Joel Stransky drops the winning points at Ellis Park
No side could have had a harder path. They faced the world champions, Australia, in their first match, overcame floodlight failure, the sending off of James Dalton and the citing of Pieter Hendriks at Port Elizabeth and played a semi-final in Durban in torrential rain.

Nothing disturbed their momentum and even the best team in the competition by far, the Kiwis, were unable to deny them the celebrations their country craved.

With Mandela installed as the nation's new president and apartheid firmly banished to the past, the theme was 'One team, one country'.

And with white South Africans roaring on black Springbok, Chester Wiliiams, who replaced the banned Hendriks, it was impossible not to begin to believe the 'Rainbow Nation' could become a reality.

Boks back in the fold

The victory was an incredible achievement. The Springboks had won the World Cup at the first time of asking.

The apartheid-inspired international sporting boycott which began in the 1970's, had denied South Africa any opportunity to prove their case in the 1987 and 1991 events.

But Mandela's transformation from Robben Island political prisoner to president had changed the complexion of the rugby world.

When New Zealand won the inaugural 1987 tournament and Australia took the honours in 1991, South Africans - and many independent observers - questioned the All Blacks' and Wallabies' right to be heralded as the undisputed world champions.

The sceptics proved correct.

The final will be remembered forever as the day South Africa matured. And the tournament itself provided some of the most exciting action ever to be seen on a rugby field.

[ image: Jonah Lomu destroyed England single-handedly in the semi-finals]
Jonah Lomu destroyed England single-handedly in the semi-finals
Jonah Lomu exploded onto the scene with an impact never before seen.

The giant All Black winger humiliated a string of opponents, running around, over or through them and capped a superb individual performance by scoring four tries against England in the semi-final.

There were no real surprises in the Pool stages - Wales lost to Ireland and Canada lost out to South Africa, while Western Samoa confirmed their position amongst the elite - but then the real battles began.

Scotland notched up 30 points against New Zealand, but still lost, France cruised past Ireland and South Africa eventually subdued the Samoans.

The best of the quarters-finals, however, was also the hardest to call.

England scrape through

Joel Stransky scores the dramatic late drop-goal to give the Springboks victory over New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup final
As England and Australia moved into injury time the score was tied at 22-22. Martin Bayfield won yet another line-out on half-way, England's powerhouse pack rumbled forward and fly-half Rob Andrew thumped a 45-yard drop-goal over the posts. The holders were out.

The semi-finals were equally dramatic.

In Durban a thunderstorm threatened to end South Africa's dream - had the game been abandoned they would have gone out because they had a worse disciplinary record than France - but they scraped home 19-15.

The BBC's Bill McClaren describes the closing stages of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final
And Lomu's brilliance ended England's hopes as New Zealand cruised through with a 45-29 victory.

Lomu had no such effect in the final, however.

The Springboks caged him in each time he had the ball, with scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen oustanding in that role.

Springbok captain Francois Pienaar dedicates his side's win in the final to the people of South Africa
The All Blacks were later to complain that their entire squad was struck down with food poisoning and certainly the Kiwis were not themselves.

However, the record book records South Africa as 1995 champions, making them the third southern hemisphere nation to take the crown in the three tournaments to date.

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