Klapping the Kiwis

Former Springbok captain Gary Teichmann and coach Nick Mallett talk about their famous 13-3 victory against the All Blacks in 1998, and whether the Boks can win again 10 years later.

What did winning that Test at Athletic Park mean to you?

Teichmann: It was a huge win for us and showed the character of the side. There had been a lot of hype about the Test, because it was the 50th between the Boks and All Blacks. I remember we defended superbly, especially [centre] Pieter Muller who made the most tackles that day.

Mallett: I was very proud to be coach of the first Bok side to win in New Zealand since 1981. For me, it also vindicated some of the selection decisions I’d made up until that point.

How did the team prepare for the Test?

Teichmann: We had beaten Australia 14-13 in Perth the week before, but we were lucky to win that game. Nick read us the riot act afterwards and we desperately wanted to win in Wellington. But I don’t think we prepared any differently.

Mallett: Our preparation was very good. We’d just beaten the Wallabies and had also had a successful end-of-year tour in 1997. We had an excellent captain in Gary and other players like Joost van der Westhuizen were on top of their game. Overall, we had a very settled team. I remember the All Blacks lead-up to that game wasn’t ideal, because there was debate over who should play flyhalf – Andrew Mehrtens or Carlos Spencer, who had done very well for the Blues that year.

Were the Boks just lucky that Spencer had an off day with the boot, or did you deserve to win?

Teichmann: We deserved to win. Spencer had played really well in the Super 12, and was the All Blacks’ first-choice flyhalf. I think we deserve credit for putting him under so much pressure that day.

Mallett: It would be an insult to say we were lucky to win. Any win in New Zealand is a bloody big achievement. Sure, Spencer didn’t play well, but that’s because we forced him into making mistakes. He was also substituted 10 minutes into the second half, so the All Blacks played 30 minutes of the game with Mehrtens at flyhalf.

What was it like in the Boks’ change room afterwards?

Teichmann: It was fantastic. I remember Joost telling me it was almost as good as winning the World Cup. We had quite a few drinks that night.

Mallett: It was overwhelming. Many of the guys were in tears. Someone like André Venter had never won a match in New Zealand, at Super Rugby or Test level.

What was the reaction of the crowd like? Was there a deathly silence?

Teichmann: They had arrived expecting a win, so they were very quiet at the end when the result became apparent.

Mallett: I was sitting in the crowd and when Pieter Rossouw scored that try (above), you could hear a pin drop. In fact, the only sound I heard was the referee’s whistle when the try was awarded. The guy in front of me, an All Blacks supporter, just said ‘Shit’.

Why do the Boks have such a poor record in New Zealand over the last 10 years?

Teichmann: South African rugby structures simply aren’t as good as those in New Zealand. I don’t think the mental aspect of playing in New Zealand has anything to do with the Boks’ poor record.

Mallett: I also don’t think it’s a mental thing. The Springboks love confrontation and are physically aggressive – they aren’t scared to play anyone. We’ve struggled to win in New Zealand over the last decade because the All Blacks have better skills than us. However, the Boks came close to winning there in 2004 and 2005, so they showed it can be done. As a visiting team, you just have to hope that you catch the All Blacks on a bad day and play exceptionally well yourself.

South African sides have generally struggled to make an impact in Super Rugby. Is this partly responsible for the Boks’ poor Test record in New Zealand?

Teichmann: You could say that. If you’ve won away from home regularly in Super Rugby, like the New Zealanders, then you do take that confidence into the Test arena. Over the last 10 years, we have often been
low on confidence at the end of May.

Mallett: New Zealand’s teams have done consistently well in Super Rugby, which has helped the All Blacks. Fortunately, our franchises have started to win regularly overseas – the Bulls won three out of five last year and the Stormers three out of four this year. The Sharks also have a good record in Australia and New Zealand.

The Boks play two Tests in New Zealand this year. Can we realistically expect to win at least one of them? And which players should be selected?

Teichmann: I don’t see why we can’t win. We are the world champions and Peter de Villiers has quality players to choose from. I just hope he selects an experienced team for those two matches. You can’t pick new caps and expect them to play under that kind of pressure. You need guys who have been in that situation before.

Mallett: A Bok team consisting mainly of players that won the World Cup can beat the All Blacks in New Zealand if they have the same unity.

By Simon Borchardt

This article first appeared in the July issue of SA Rugby magazine. The August issue will be on sale from Wednesday, 16 July.