Team Canterbury

5 Historic Moments From South African Rugby’s Past

South Africa celebrating victory

When you go into any tour it always helps to know what you’re up against. And The British & Irish Lions and South Africa have plenty of history. But aside from some epic encounters against the Lions, the Springboks have had many other magic moments. You don’t get to be the joint most successful side in World Cup history without them.

So, to dig a little deeper into what we’re up against when the tour kicks off in July, we’re looking into the archives at some of the most historic moments in South African rugby history.

1995 World Cup Final

South Africa celebrating victory

We simply had to start here. The 1995 World Cup triumph doesn’t just go down as a momentous occasion in South African rugby history, it’s one for all of Rugby Union. So much so they made a film about it.

On the field at Ellis Park, the Springboks defeated an All Blacks side featuring the steamrolling power of Jonah Lomu 15-12. Captain, Francois Pienaar lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in front of a home crowd for South Africa’s first ever World Cup triumph. But that’s just half of the story. This is a tale of uniting a nation post-apartheid. Nelson Mandela had been elected president the year before. He came into the changing room before the game wearing Pienaar’s number 6 shirt with the Springbok on his heart. It galvanised the players – they knew what they had to do for their country. Mandela letting Chester Williams (the only black player in the squad) know he was proud of him was the icing on the cake.

With normal time finishing 9-9, the Springboks triumphed after a cagey and nail-biting extra time. Mandela himself then presented the trophy to Pienaar. What a win. And what a moment.

2. South Africa 28-25 Lions: Second Test 2009

South African player converting a try

Lions rugby fans look away now (we know this one still hurts). But to break through the pain we have to relive it once again. Don’t worry, we can do it together.

Having won the first test in Durban 26-21, South Africa faced the Lions in Pretoria hoping to get the job done in two tests. Now this was a physical test with both sides going toe-to-toe in an intriguing and thrilling encounter. With the score at 25-22 going into the last three minutes, a Stephen Jones penalty for the Lions pulled it back to 25 apiece and looked to have kept the series alive for the third test. Those Lions’ hopes were dashed in dramatic fashion with a Morné Steyn penalty from 53 yards settling the match with the last kick of the game.

Dramatic to say the least. And heart-breaking for the Lions.

3. 2007 World Cup Final

Another World Cup final win and this time the second in Springbok history. It wasn’t a thriller by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a huge moment for South African rugby as it pulled them level with Australia on two World Cup wins at the time.

The final itself saw the Springboks defeat the holders England 15-6 in a try-less encounter in front of 80,000 people at the Stade de France in Paris. It was also a huge moment for retiring prop Os du Randt who was the last active player from the 1995 World Cup win. By claiming his second World Cup title he joined five Australians as the only players at the time to win it twice.

4. 2009 Tri Nations Triumph Against the All Blacks in Hamilton

South African changing room after beating All Blacks

South Africa and New Zealand are huge rivals. You don’t need us to tell you that. And there’s nothing sweeter than stealing all the points and the trophy in your rivals’ backyard.

That’s exactly what happened in 2009.

Having lost 21-6 the week before to the Wallabies, the Springboks went into this one under pressure. And none more so than on the shoulders of captain John Smit. But he was in the mood to answer those critics. Answer them he did with an inspired performance that included the tackle of the night when smashing into Brad Thorn. He also won an important penalty on the hour mark that propelled his team onto a 32-29 win. A big performance from the skipper and a big win.

5. 2019 World Cup Final

Eben Etzebeth flicks pass out while being tackled

Another heart-breaking one for England but a wonderfully proud moment for South Africa in what was their third World Cup triumph – drawing them level in the all-time stakes with their great rivals, New Zealand.

Held at the International Stadium, Yokohama this one was a little more thrilling than the contest 12 years earlier.  On this occasion, tries from Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe and the precise kicking of Handré Pollard saw the Springboks claim a 32-12 victory. They now have the foundation to go into the 2023 World Cup in France hoping to become the outright most successful side in World Cup history. Although there will be a few teams hoping to stop them!

Do you agree with our most memorable moments? Whilst a certain one may be painful for Lions fans (and two for England supporters) it’s always good to know your opposition. How do you think Warren Gatland’s team will get on against South Africa in the 2021 Lions tour? Drop your predictions on our social channels.



Writer and expert