Ruck U Lesson 3: The Battle of Boet Erasmus

Source: Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP/Getty Images

It’s been a while since I have done one of these, but I figured the RWC is as good a time as any to make a triumphant return.

Welcome to Ruck U! A place where we discuss some of the iconic moments throughout rugby history.

Canada recently fell at the hands of South Africa but that’s nothing to be ashamed of because historically the Springboks are one of the best teams ever and have claimed two Rugby World Cup titles. Canada had lost both of their previous meetings with the Springboks. The last time Canada squared off with South Africa was at the 1995 tournament.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup is the most famous Rugby World Cup that has been played to date. It was first major sporting event hosted by South Africa following the end of apartheid. President Nelson Mandela decided to use the RWC as a way to introduce the new South Africa to the world. The tournament took on plenty of political meaning as the country became united in watching the Springboks triumph. Mandela and Springbok captain Francois Pienaar became synonymous with the tournament.

Mandela’s goal was to use the Springboks to unite the country and bring South Africans of all races together. The 1995 RWC has been discussed heavily in many books and was made into a film by Clint Eastwood titled Invictus starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman.

Canada had a major role to play in the Springbok’s road to glory at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Canada was in the Springboks’ pool (alongside Australia and Romania). Canada and the Springboks met in the final game of the pool stage. With the way the previous games played out, this was a huge match for Canada and a win could potentially send them to the quarterfinals.

The Springboks needed the win as well, as a Canadian victory could have created the chaos of three 2-0-1 teams in the pool. South Africa needed the win to ensure they stay at the top of the table. The game would become known as the Battle of Boet Erasmus and it left a lasting impact on the 1995 tournament and in the history books.

The game got off to a bizarre start. A power failure at Boet Erasmus Stadium delayed the start by forty-five minutes. The power outage only added to the tension leading up to this important match. When the match finally kicked off both teams looked to impose a physical style of play. The Springbok defense, a cornerstone of their 1995 campaign, was in full force.

However, Canada’s defense came to play as well. Canada knew that they needed to play a physical brand of rugby in order to upset the host nation. For the most part, the game was even. Canada’s offense was turned aside by the Springboks, and the Springboks had a few opportunities soured by the Canadians.

After a Canadian turnover, Springbok flyhalf Joel Stransky looked to be headed for a try in the corner before winger David Lougheed laid a thunderous covering tackle knocking Stransky into touch and keeping the Springboks off the board. The set piece began to prove a deciding factor in this match.

The Springbok captain Francois Pienaar began to call for scrums when South Africa was in an attacking position. Springbok Eightman Adriaan Richter picked up 2 tries in the opening half after their scrum pushed the Canadians over their own line. Stransky would convert both tries and add a penalty to give the Springboks a 17-0 lead heading into halftime.

The physical tone that was set in the first half would carry over into the second. Both team’s defenses were in fine form and points were hard to come by.

The Canadians spent plenty of time down near the Springboks line, but their defense would bend but not break, keeping Canada off the board. At the 48th minute mark, a dust up occurred between Colin Mackenzie and Joost van der Westhuizen. The result was another Stansky penalty to increase the lead to 20-0. Stranky’s penalty would be the last time the Springboks got on the board. Canada had certainly proven in the past that they were capable of competing with the world’s best.

In 1995, they gave South Africa all they could handle. Canada’s open field play throughout the match asked many questions of the Springboks defense. Unfortunately, their efforts continued to go unrewarded. The game would continue to be an intense affair. Eventually, the physical game would reach a boiling point.

In the seventieth minute, Al Charron took a hard run at the Springboks defense. Charron offloaded to Scott Stewart who quickly moved the ball through the hands of Steve Gray and onto Christian Stewart. Stewart found a big hole in the Springboks defense and took off down the field.

Eventually, Stewart would be caught by fullback Andre Joubert and he tried to offload to Winston Stanley, but Christian Scholtz was there to break up the play. Stanley continued to run as the ball fell into touch. Pieter Hendriks decided to hit Stanley after whistle and Stanley grabbed a hold Hendriks. S. Stewart came to Stanley’s defense and hit Hendriks which warranted a response from James Dalton.

After that, everybody piled on and a brawl ensued. Springbok Hannes Strydom got the worst of the altercation as he emerged from the mayhem a bloody mess. When the dust settled referee David McHugh issued red cards to James Dalton of the Springboks and Gareth Rees and Rod Snow of Canada for their roles in the brawl.

The three red cards issued by McHugh remains a record for test match rugby. Interestingly enough, this was the first Rugby World Cup game McHugh had ever officiated. Hell of a game you chose, David.

The game would end as a 20-0 Springbok victory and the sides still exchanged jerseys after the match.

The game left an impact on the rest of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. In addition to the three red cards, Hendriks and S. Stewart were both cited after the match. Hendriks would join Dalton as the two Springboks were suspended for the rest of the tournament.

Hendriks’ suspension opened the door for the return of Chester Williams to the Springbok lineup. Williams was the only black player on the Springboks and was seen as an important figure as Mandela united the country during the tournament.

Historically, black South Africans would cheer against the Springboks, something Mandela was trying to change. Mandela’s public support of the team and Williams inclusion on the roster went a long way to changing how the Springboks were perceived.

Of course, Williams’ impact on the tournament wasn’t just political. Williams scored 4 tries against Western Samoa in the quarterfinals as the Springboks claimed a 42-12 victory. The Springboks would go on to defeat France and New Zealand to claim the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Canada’s clash with South Africa is, unfortunately, remembered for just for the brawl. However, Canadian rugby fans should be able to look back on the 1995 tournament with pride. The seventieth minute incident aside, Canada played a great game against the Springboks.

The Springbok backs were invisible for most of the match thanks to plenty of strong Canadian defense. The only way South Africa generated tries was through two scrums. The Springbok scrum did overpower Canada on those plays allowing Richter to score his 2 tries. Canada’s offense was solid too. They were able to sustain plenty of pressure inside the Springboks 22. Unfortunately, Canada always came away empty handed.

The Springbok defense was exceptional throughout the tournament. Sure, Canada failed to score a try against them, but neither France nor Jonah Lomu’s All Blacks were able to cross the whitewash against the Springboks. They were an incredibly difficult team to score against and allowed just 26 points against in the pool stage, the lowest of the tournament.

The Springbok defense is a major reason why they would go on to win the Rugby World Cup. Ultimately, this game is a reminder of a time where Canada was capable of competing toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the world. This squad featured two World Rugby Hall of Famers in Al Charron and Gareth Rees and both illustrated why they were deserving of this honour at various points in the tournament.

Canada as a whole was filled with great players like Winston Stanley, Rod Snow, and Scott Stewart who were all more than capable of playing against the best teams and players in the world. They all had great 1995 Rugby World Cups, and their performances should be remembered for more than just the seventieth minute against the Springboks.

As always, follow @Bressette4 on twitter for Layman’s Sports continuing coverage of the Rugby World Cup.


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