Mark Keohane writing for IOL Sport and Independent Media Publications
The Springboks earlier in the year paid tribute to the late James Small and Chester Williams with personal tributes and also through tangible match-day gestures. In the World Cup final, the very same Springboks, no doubt guided by the rugby gods, gave the 1995 World Cup-winning duo the greatest gift by way of try-scoring numbers.
It wasn’t lost on followers of the game that South Africa’s two World Cup final tries were scored by players wearing the No 11 and No 14 jerseys.
Chester Williams, in the 1995 play-offs, owned the Bok No 11 jersey and defended like a trojan against All Blacks right wing Jeff Wilson. James Small, who wore the No 14 Springbok jersey in South Africa’s first ever international back from sporting isolation in 1992, was as heroic in handling the physical presence of the-then Man Child Jonah Lomu in the 1995 final.
The Springboks, winners of the 1995 World Cup against New Zealand 15-12 and the 2007 World Cup against England 15-6, had never scored a try in a World Cup final. It took 66 minutes in Tokyo for Springboks left wing flyer Makazole Mapimpi to finally honour the famed Bok No 11 jersey with a try. Less than 10 minutes later, Cheslin Kolbe did a similar thing for those who have worn the No 14 jersey.
Wingers are traditionally the finishers in rugby. They are the men who score the tries and at the 2019 World Cup, Mapimpi and Kolbe would score six and three respectively.
The current Bok duo’s try-scoring also challenges the perception that the Boks, at the 2019 World Cup, were a team that couldn’t score tries. They scored the second most tries and the most points on way to claiming their third World Cup in seven tournaments and their third from three finals.
Statistically, this makes the Springboks the greatest ever World Cup team, eclipsing New Zealand’s three successes from nine attempts and three final wins from four starts.
The All Blacks are without question the greatest rugby nation, especially since the game went professional, but now South Africa can claim to be the most successful team in World Cup history.
Long before the first kick-off of the 2019 World Cup I wrote that I could see (Siya) Kolisi hoisting that little gold cup into the heavens. I wrote that it looks right and it will be right on so many levels that go beyond the game of rugby.
This was one of those magical World Cups in which I always felt a force far greater than any referee, coach or player, had already written the script. I felt that way when the Boks won the 1995 World Cup in South Africa and experienced a similar feeling when the All Blacks won in New Zealand in 2011.
Numbers were significant when the All Blacks beat France 8-7 in 2011. In 1987 they have beaten France at the same venue.
The numbers that speak so beautifully from South Africa’s victory in Japan will forever be 11 and 14, when two of today’s Rainbow Warriors paid tribute to two of yesterday’s fallen warriors.