Louis Luyt introduces Nelson Mandela to the Springbok players prior to the 1995 Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park.
Tertius Pickard/Gallo Images
South Africa skipper Francois Pienaar receiving the Rugby World Cup from Nelson Mandela endured long after the 1995 final, but there were other headline makers at the tournament.
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A couple of days before the showdown between decades-old rivals the Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks, a mysterious waitress named ‘Suzie’ became the centre of attention.
Up to 31 of the 36-strong New Zealand party became ill 48 hours before the four-yearly rugby showpiece at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
All Blacks coach Laurie Mains believed ‘Suzie’ was behind a food-poisoning plot while many South Africans are convinced the waitress was invented as an excuse for losing the final.
Below is a recollection of ‘Suzie’ and others who featured in the build-up and the aftermath of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final:
After the pre-final food poisoning outbreak, Mains hired a private detective to probe what might have caused many in his team to fall ill.
An investigation established that a lady was employed by the hotel in an upscale Johannesburg suburb a couple of days before the New Zealanders arrived to prepare for the big match.
Mains was told that ‘Suzie’ disappeared, never to be seen again, a day after many All Blacks suffered diarrhoea and vomiting.
Rory Steyn, a South African responsible for the security of the New Zealanders, believed betting syndicates were behind the food poisoning.
The South African Airways pilot flew a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet over Ellis Park less than an hour before the final kicked off.
Kay, who died in 2013, and three other crew members spent a week planning and practising for the pre-final highlight that was so secret not even Mandela knew about it.
“The idea was to release maximum vibrations, noise and power with a view to energising the crowd and players,” wrote John Carlin in a book about the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
“Laurie got the plane very near to stalling in order to get that maximum power effect when he was over the stadium. It was pretty outrageous.”
A reserved coach of British descent who never played for the Springboks led South Africa to World Cup glory at the first attempt and quit a year later boasting a perfect record.
Given what he called an “ambulance job” a year before the final after Ian McIntosh was fired, Christie was a master analyst who won all 14 Tests in charge ahead of his death in 1998.
Fearing French strength at the back of lineouts in the semi-finals, he moved lock Mark Andrews to No 8, and kept him there for the final to expose a lack of New Zealand height.
Unsure whether to play excellent goal-kicker Joel Stransky or inventive Hennie le Roux at flyhalf at the World Cup, he chose both with Le Roux starting at inside centre.
The majority of South Africans are black and their favourite sport is football. They shunned rugby for decades with the Springboks considered a symbol of the racist apartheid system.
But as the mid-winter sun set over Johannesburg on 24 June, the streets around Ellis Park were packed with ecstatic blacks celebrating the World Cup triumph.
Gone was the hatred of a national rugby team once reserved for whites. Instead, 14 whites and black winger Chester Williams were now national heroes admired by most South Africans.
The chaotic street scenes meant many attendees at a post-final banquet between Johannesburg and Pretoria were delayed as traffic crept forward snail-like for many kilometres.
“That bastard,” snapped All Blacks legend and then team manager Colin Meads as he led his team out of the banquet after being upset by South African rugby supremo Louis Luyt.
In his speech, Luyt said New Zealand (1987) and Australia (1991) were not real world champions as apartheid had prevented South Africa competing in the first two editions.
A bad night got worse for the South African official when he offered a gold watch to Welsh match official Derek Bevan, calling him “the most wonderful referee in the world”.
Bevan, who opted to walk out, had denied France a last-minute try in a rain-soaked semi-final in Durban which would have taken Les Bleus to the final.