Memorable moments – Boks, All Blacks serve up an unforgettable rivalry
The Springboks and the All Blacks clash for the 100th time on 25 September, exactly 100 years after their first meeting. It’s a rivalry that has defined rugby’s hierarchy for most of that time.
When the two giants met in the pre-1996 amateur era, it was almost always for the unofficial world title. Since the establishment of the World Cup, the two nations have won six of the nine tournaments between them, winning three each.
At a purely rugby level, nothing rivals it. At a sociopolitical level, it has been spiky.
Here are some of the most memorable moments in the rivalry.
1921 – The beginning
The Springboks and New Zealand met for the first time in Dunedin in 1921, which was set to be the venue for the 100th meeting in 2021 until Covid-19 upset the best laid plans.
It was a ground-breaking tour because the Boks were considered the meanest, biggest and best team in the world. They had lost once in 11 Tests going back to 1906 and arrived expecting to win.
But New Zealand won the Dunedin Test 13-5 before the Boks fought back, winning the second 9-5 in Auckland with the third Test in Wellington ending in a 0-0 draw.
1937 – The history-makers
The 1937 Springboks remain the only South African team to win a series in New Zealand and, unless there is a return to tours, they will remain the only team to do so.
The Springboks arrived in New Zealand and promptly lost the first Test. Winning in New Zealand was hard enough, but winning from 1-0 down was a mountainous task.
Captain Philip Nel was omitted from the first Test, which was costly. When he was restored for the second Test, the forwards purred and dominated but the Boks had to come from 6-0 down at half-time. In that era of low scoring, it was a long way back. Wing Fred Turner scored with Gerry Brand converting to make it 6-5 with 10 minutes to go.
When the Springboks won a penalty in their own half, Brand landed what was probably the most famous penalty in Bok history before Morné Steyn’s 2009 series winner against the Lions.
The Springboks scored a late try through Ebbo Bastard to seal a dramatic win and, two weeks later, they romped to a five-try 17-6 win in the deciding third Test.
1981 – The demonstration tour
The 1981 tour to New Zealand at the height of apartheid should never have gone ahead. It was a tour that divided New Zealanders and created family rifts that took generations to heal. Some haven’t healed at all.
On paper, it was a great Springbok side and, to this day, they blame Welsh referee Clive Norling for the series defeat. He awarded a controversial last-minute penalty in the third Test, which Allan Hewson slotted to give the All Blacks a 25-22 victory and a 2-1 series win. In between, there were demonstrations, pitch invasions and flour bombs dropped on the field.
The rugby was hard and epic and, ultimately, the tour helped put pressure on the apartheid government. It was the last time the teams would play officially for 11 years.
RWC final 1995
This single game had it all and remains perhaps the single most-iconic rugby match.
The Boks’ first World Cup final, at their spiritual home of Ellis Park against the old foes containing the most famous and ground-breaking rugby player of all time – Jonah Lomu – was a perfect recipe.
In the stands sat Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s newly elected first democratic president. He wore a Springbok No 6 jersey.
It was the first final to go to extra time. Bok flyhalf Joel Stransky landed the winning drop goal late in the second period of extra time to seal a famous win on a day that has inspired books and a Hollywood movie.
2009 – Boks make it a triple
In 2009, after beating the British & Irish Lions, the Springboks won three times against their old enemies. It was the first time since 1949 that the Boks beat the All Blacks three times in a row in the same year.
The Springboks won the first of the Tests 28-19 in Bloemfontein.
A week later, Morné Steyn provided the heroics, scoring all 31 Springboks points in a 31-19 victory in Durban.
A month later, the third encounter in Hamilton saw the Boks hang on for a 3219 victory to secure the Tri-Nations crown.