Rugby World Cup History: South Africa

With less than 100 days to the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Last Word on Sports looks back at how the participating nations have fared in the previous seven tournaments from the inaugural in 1987 to the most recent in 2011. Today’s focus is South Africa, who have appeared at five of the seven previous Rugby World Cups.

Rugby World Cup History: South Africa


Despite being an International Rugby Football Board Member, South Africa did not compete at the inaugural Rugby World Cup due to the international sports boycott during apartheid.


Despite apartheid ending four months before the 1991 Rugby World Cup, the qualification process was held a year prior, when South Africa was still under an international sports boycott. As such, South Africa did not compete at the 1991 Rugby World Cup.


Following the end of apartheid South Africa were awarded the right to host 1995 Rugby World Cup, the first major sporting event to be held in the country post apartheid. South Africa were drawn in Pool A with Australia, Canada and Romania. In the opening match of the tournament the Springboks defeated holders Australia 27-18. Further wins against Canada and Romania meant South Africa topped the group setting up a quarter final match against Western Samoa. South Africa proved too much against the Samoans running out 42-14 winners to advance to the semi finals. France awaited the hosts, and the two teams played out a tight game which saw South Africa triumph 19-15. Jonah Lomu and the All Blacks awaited South Africa in the final and the game could not have been closer. With the scores 9-9 the 1995 final would be the first Rugby World Cup match to go to extra time. With the teams exchanging penalties in the first half of extra time the game was settled in the second half by a Joel Stransky drop goal, leaving the final score 15-12 and South Africa World Champions. The image of Nelson Mandela presenting the World Cup to South Africa captain Francois Pienaar, wearing a Springbok jersey, is so iconic it has transcended sport.


Qualifying automatically for the 1999 Rugby World Cup as holders, South Africa were drawn in Pool A with Scotland, Spain and Uruguay.  Opening their campaign against Scotland, the Springboks set the tone for the group running out 46-29 winners.  A 47-3 win against Spain in their second game followed by a 39-3 win over Uruguay, left South Africa top of the pool and set up a quarter final with England.  South Africa triumphed over the English dispatching them 44-21 with fly-half Jannie de Beer scoring a record five drop goals in a single test match. Up against Australia in the semi final South Africa were unable to repeat their victory against the Wallabies from 1995 losing 27-21 after extra time.  South Africa finished the World Cup facing fellow losing semi finalist New Zealand in the 3rd/4th placed playoff. As in the 1995 final the Springboks were victorious, winning 22-18 to finish the 1999 World Cup in 3rd place.


With the quarter finalists from the 1999 World Cup qualifying automatically for the 2003 tournament in Australia, South Africa would face England, Uruguay, Georgia and Samoa in Pool C. A dominant performance in their opening game against Uruguay saw the Springboks run out 72-6 winners. South Africa’s second game was against England; however the English proved too strong gaining revenge for the 1999 quarter final defeat, winning 25-6. Easy wins against Georgia and Samoa secured second place in the group and qualification to the quarter finals. Facing Pool D winners New Zealand in the quarter finals, South Africa were unable to repeat their victories from 1995 and 1999, losing out to the All Blacks 29-9.


Drawn in Pool A with England, Samoa, Tonga and the USA, South Africa started well with a comfortable 59-7 win over Samoa. Next up the Springboks gained revenge over England for their 2003 pool defeat, running out easy 36-0 winners. South Africa saw off a late fight back from Tonga to win 30-25 before seeing off USA 64-15 to secure top spot in the group. Pool B runners up Fiji awaited South Africa in the quarter finals, and despite a brave performance by the Fijians South Africa eventually won 37-20. Facing a tough Argentina side in the semi final the Springboks proved more than a match for the South Americans winning 37-13 to reach the final and set up a rematch with England. In a much tighter affair than the first game South Africa managed to keep a slender advantage throughout the match with England coming close to scoring a try but Mark Cueto’s effort in the corner was ruled out by the Television Match Official. In the end penalties from the boot of Percy Montgomery (4) and Francois Steyn (1) were enough for a 15-9 win and secured South Africa their second Rugby World Cup.


Entering the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand as holders, South Africa were drawn in Pool D with Wales, Samoa, Fiji and Namibia. Opening with a tight game against Wales, South Africa edged it with a Francois Hougaard try securing a 17-16 win. A comfortable 49-3 win against Fiji was followed up by the 87-0 demolition of Namibia, before a final game 13-5 win against Samoa secured first place in the group and passage to the quarter finals. The Springboks faced Australia, in a close game and just like the 1999 semi final Australia prevailed, winning 11-9 eliminating South Africa.

South Africa have had a huge impact on the Rugby World Cup, from their first entry as hosts, and that historic moment at Ellis Park between Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar to their second triumph in 2007. Always a contender at Rugby World Cups the Springboks will again be amongst the favourites in 2015 and be looking to become the first country to win three Rugby World Cup titles.

To read more Rugby World Cup History click here

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