When was the 2007 Rugby World Cup actually won for the Springboks? Was the defining moment the disallowed try by England wing Mark Cueto? Was it Percy Montgomery’s soaring penalty goals or even that long-range effort by Frans Steyn before half time?
It was many things. But what if I suggested that the first major step to the title came the year before in the less than salubrious surrounds of the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg? And that quite possibly the biggest hero in the road to glory was (forgotten) Andre Pretorius?
Lest we forget … The year was 2006 and Jake White and John Smit’s Springboks had lost five matches in a row, including a humiliating 0-49 disaster against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
The week prior to Rustenburg, the All Blacks had put 45 points past the Boks at Loftus Versfeld and there were rumblings from all over South Africa, including the South African Rugby Union, that a sixth consecutive defeat would mean the sacking of White, which almost certainly would have meant a change of captain as well. There would have been an “ambulance job” appointment of a new coach and the Boks would have been overhauled.
In those days, the visiting Tri-Nations teams played back-to-back Tests, so it was the All Blacks once more in Rustenburg for a game that had massive consequences riding on it for White and Smit. Maybe it was the unglamorous setting, maybe it was the desperation of the Boks, but that game became a throwback to the amateur era in terms of the players belting the hell out of each other, and to heck with the TV cameras. It was a streetfight.
It came down to a moment late in the game when All Blacks No 8 Rodney So’oialo blatantly went offside at a ruck and English referee Chris White blew a penalty for the Boks, who were trailing 18-20.
It was not an easy kick, and 26000 South African fans at that rustic ground, and 22 Springbok players, held their breath and watched exultantly as Pretorius calmly guided the ball between the uprights.
The Boks won 21-20. A tearful John Smit almost suffocated Pretorius with gratitude, and the day was saved. The Bok celebrations that night at Sun City were epic. An All Blacks team that had won 15 Tests in a row had been beaten and the heat was (temporarily) off White and Smit. They lived to fight another day.
A year later they were holding aloft the Webb Ellis Cup at the Stade de France but what might have transpired had Pretorius missed that kick in Rustenburg?
White was on very thin ice and almost certainly would have been sacked had the Boks lost. Let’s not also forget that despite that reprieve in Rustenburg, White later that year was recalled from the Bok end-of-year tour to face a Saru enquiry after the Boks had lost their opening two tour games, to Ireland and England.
White rejoined the tour and the final match (for some reason) was a second Test against England, which the Boks won 25-14, again after a rallying ‘do-or-die’ speech from Smit.
It was a psychological turning point for Smit’s Boks. England visited South Africa in 2007 and got two 50-point hidings, in Bloemfontein and Pretoria, and the next occasion the countries met was in Paris at the World Cup. The Boks won that Pool game 36-0, and then, of course, the final.
All magnificent Springbok history … But would there have been a very different and quite forgettable tale of the Springboks at the 2007 Rugby World Cup had Pretorius missed that kick in the bundus of the highveld, and White and Smit lost their jobs?
I was at the game with the writer Mike Greenaway (and he was not working ) and our gang of friends .The party after the game was off the chart at Traders in Sun City.I was a upset to put it mildly the All blacks lost and i paid the price
What great memories from an epic WEEKEND
BY Mike Greenaway
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