Baby Boks revive spirit of '95

Date published: June 25 2012

The parallels with 1995 were impossible to ignore when the entire SA squad sank one knee to the turf after Friday's JWC Final.

The parallels were impossible to ignore. By the time the entire South African squad sank one knee to the turf to lend thanks to a greater power there had already been many a moment that took the mind back to 24 June 1995.

Much like they did on that momentous day almost exactly 17 years ago, New Zealand came into this clash as obvious favourites having won every Junior World Championship to date, but were up against a South African side surfing an unstoppable wave of local support.

The Springboks of 1995 spoke often of the unity they felt in that World Cup-winning squad, and when the jubilant crowd of 33,210 had filtered out of Newlands on Friday night, taking an atmosphere befitting of a Test match with them, Baby Boks coach Dawie Theron spoke about what his players would take out of the incredible experience.

The obvious thought was that the next generation of potential Boks will be more confident players who are better able to handle pressure, but for Theron the real value appeared to fall elsewhere.

“When a team achieves what we have achieved now you can get philosophical about it and say a lot of stuff that sounds funny,” he began.

“But it's almost like we wish that we could stay together a little bit longer, because when you go through this experience… it really just became a big family, and these guys will be in contact with each other for the rest of their lives – I promise you.”

The feeling of family was an overriding theme in Theron's post-match press conference, ensuring that thoughts of Kitch Christie were never far away for those with a sense of history.

Another unavoidable comparison to 1995 was raised by Theron when he compared the psychological blow of Handre Pollard's match-defining 45-metre drop-goal to that landed by Joel Stransky.

Although they came in different guises, they both put a dent in the rugby universe – Stransky's drop came to define a significant moment in South African history, while Pollard's barely believable effort turned the tide in the match and could change the future for many of the players involved.

It was also the moment when Pollard showed his ability to bend a game to his will, and after he had stunned everyone present in the stadium to the core with that kick, he went on to provide the raking pass that opened up the right-hand side of the field and set up Jan Serfontein's try.

“I think Handre grew throughout this tournament,” Theron said afterwards.

“To be fair he had a difficult first half (in the final). There was a lot of pressure on him and you could see that he felt it. But the maturity of the guy and the way that he grew throughout this game was just unbelievable.

“For that guy to come back and start controlling the game, it just shows you that he can go places. He's very good.”

But while Pollard took deserved plaudits and Serfontein walked away with the Player of the Year Award, the seed of South Africa's victory was inevitably sewn among the forwards.

The universally-loved Chuck Norris aside, it is unlikely that there is a more popular redhead in Cape Town than Steven Kitshoff, who was forever at the front of South Africa's dominant rolling maul and led the forward pack with distinction.

As pumped up as the Stormers prop was for this mammoth game on his home turf, he was also the one putting an occasional calming hand on the shoulder of Nicolaas Van Dyk as the number 3 threatened to explode with adrenalin.

Van Dyk could almost claim personal responsibility for South Africa's try just after half-time, when he destroyed a New Zealand scrum on South Africa's five-yard line. The resultant penalty not only scraped away at New Zealand's spirit, but it quite quickly led to Fabian Booysen's sniping try.

While New Zealand looked to box clever and relied on counter-attacking rugby, South Africa put together the all-round game which has often been lacking from the senior side. Assistant coach Brendan Venter referred to it as a Bordeaux blend, and a euphoric Theron was only too happy to use the analogy when he was asked about where South African rugby is going.

“The success of what we are doing is to get these guys in the frame of mind of what is Springbok rugby about, and the discipline that goes with it,” he said.

“There is a structure and we need to get the balance right. Brendan always speaks about the balance or the blend. I think that performance was like a Bordeaux blend.

“We can't say we're just a team that kicks because if we do that you might get a team that outkick you on the night and then you're gone, so we need to get the blend right on the running rugby and the way we want to play.”

By Tristan Holme