Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

1995: 'We had the weapons to win it'

Andrew Mehrtens and the All Blacks played a strong, simple game during the 1995 tournament.
Photo / Getty Images
Andrew Mehrtens and the All Blacks played a strong, simple game during the 1995 tournament. Photo / Getty Images

After the extraordinary extra-time conclusion to the 1995 World Cup, Andrew Mehrtens altered the pin number on his cashflow card to 1215.

He did it to remember the feeling, not to dwell on it but to respect the disappointment of that outcome for New Zealand, himself and his teammates.

"Sometimes I can be flippant but it was not about being negative. I wanted to move on, we all had to, but I still wanted to respect the emptiness we had and the country felt. I wanted a sobering reminder," he recalls.

"It didn't do me any good though at the '99 tournament, so I biffed it."

The 1995 World Cup is infamous. The All Blacks over-achieved in the rugby world's expectations while Mehrtens and his mates knew they were capable of winning and fell short.

"I've put it to bed, but there are guys in the team who have never watched a replay. The biggest disappointment was feeling you had let the country down and the team but that is the danger of playing sport I guess.

"We gave it our all and had the game and the weapons to win it. We were very conscious of the people in New Zealand who were watching in the middle of the night.

"At least we were able to raise our spirits some weeks later with a test win against the Wallabies in Sydney and that gave us some relief rather than having the result hang over us through the summer like subsequent All Black sides."

Mehrtens was no certainty to go to that World Cup. He had only played one season for Canterbury, missed the start of the Super 10 and the inter-island match but played for Harlequins against Waikato.

Then he was picked for the All Blacks to play Canada with Graeme Bachop, Walter Little and Frank Bunce around him.

When they arrived in South Africa, the All Blacks were fifth favourites behind England, South Africa, France and Australia.

Jonah Lomu made the side, convincing Laurie Mains et al he was a strong investment. After the first game, Lomu-mania went into overdrive as opponents lined up four or five guys against him.

"The tournament went by in a bit of a blur for me," Mehrtens says. "Ireland came at us hard but then we found teams could not stay with us. I just chucked the ball out for the others to do their magic and kicked some goals. It was great fun as we played a strong, simple style."

When the All Blacks reached the semifinal against England, Mehrtens was late for the captain's meeting the night before the test. It was not a good start. Fitzpatrick was grumpy and Mehrtens knew that the side's loss in '93 still grated because of the attitude shown by the English media and officials.

The All Blacks could tell from Fitzpatrick and Zinzan Brooke they had a score to settle, there was a personal edge.

"Everything went our way, Jonah got the ball early and we were leading 25-3 at the interval. The power of the man was amazing, but it was also his speed, his agility and balance.

"He had some beautiful skills, moves and offloads. I hope that is not forgotten about him."

When the All Blacks got to extra time in the final against the Springboks, Mehrtens thought back to the work they had done over summer.

The further they went in the tournament the more confident they felt about their chances.

"We got ahead in extra time and then things started to go awry. Every time we got to their end, Andre Joubert or Joel Stransky kicked them back to halfway.

"When you look back on it, maybe it was not meant to be. What worked for us so well during the tournament was not going so well because the Boks, from 1 to 15, threw everything including their mothers' bodies on the line to make a tackle.

"Jonah did not get enough space and maybe we were too predictable with our attack. They were very conscious of the threat from him. Japie Mulder was enormous and Hennie Le Roux was swept up in it too.

"We had a game which had worked for us all tournament. We had to decide whether to persevere with that, thinking they would crack or we would bust them, or change, but to what?

"We had to trust our gameplan, try and perform it better and hope for a slice of luck. We came off and perhaps thought we had not fired all the bullets we had."

Famously, a stomach illness swept through the squad. Mehrtens had been the first to succumb after kicking practice on the Thursday. He vomited bright yellow bile and was put in isolation by Dr Mike Bowen.

He woke the next morning, struggled to a team meeting and found no one there. Eventually the players gathered and went to a local park and lay in the shade.

"The standard line is I'm never going to say nothing happened. Whether it was sinister or bad luck I'm not sure; I'm never going to say nothing happened or that it cost us the match.

"We got to the game still feeling confident, we got through 80 minutes and staring down the extra 20 minutes, I thought we were okay.

"It was the most dramatic game I have ever played in, from the jumbo plane beforehand, all the way through.

"My dropped goal near the end was close. They were not my forte and I missed four, though I got one from near touch.

"The late miss was from 28 metres nearly in front, Joost van der Westhuizen got a bit of a flyer from a ruck and put a lot of pressure on. As soon as I hit it I knew it was away to the right, it slewed off and missed by about seven or eight metres.

"The whole day was stunning. We had the game and the weapons to win but came up short."

The record
Beat Ireland 43-19
Beat Wales 34-9
Beat Japan 145-17
Quarter-final: beat Scotland 45-29
Semifinal: beat England 46-18
Final: lost to South Africa (aet) 15-12

1995 tournament results

Pool A
May 25, at Newlands, Cape Town: South Africa 27 (Pieter Hendriks, Joel Stransky tries; Stransky con, 4 pen, drop goal) Australia 18 (Phil Kearns, Michael Lynagh tries; Lynagh con, 2 pen). Referee: Derek Bevan (Wales).

May 26, at Boet Erasmus Stadium, Port Elizabeth: Canada 34 (Al Charron, Colin McKenzie, Rod Snow tries; Gareth Rees 2 con, 4 pen) Romania 3 (Neculai Nichitean pen). Referee: Colin Hawke (New Zealand).

May 30, at Newlands: South Africa 21 (Adriaan Richter 2 tries; Gavin Johnson con, 3 pen) Romania 8 (Andrei Guranescu try; Ilie Ivancuic pen). Referee: Ken McCartney (Scotland).

May 31, at Boet Erasmus Stadium: Australia 27 (Lynagh, Tabua Tamanivalu, Joe Roff tries; Lynagh 3 con, 2 pen) Canada 11 (Charron try; Rees 2 pen). Referee: Patrick Robin (France).

June 3, at Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch: Australia 42 (Damian Smith, David Wilson, Roff 2, Michael Foley, Matt Burke tries; Burke 2 con; John Eales 4 con) Romania 3 (Ivancuic pen). Referee: Naoki Saito (Japan).

June 3, at Boet Erasmus Stadium: South Africa 20 (Richter 2 tries; Stransky 2 con, 2 pen) Canada 0. Referee: David McHugh (Ireland).

Pool B
May 27, at Basil Kenyon Stadium, East London: Western Samoa 42 (Brian Lima 2, George Harder 3, Darren Kellet, Shem Tatupu tries; Kellet 2 con, pen) Italy 18 (Paolo Vaccari, Massimo Cuttitta tries; Diego Dominguez con, pen, drop goal). Referee: Joel Dume (France).

May 27, at Kings Park, Durban: England 24 (Rob Andrew 6 pen, 2 drop goals) Argentina 18 (Lisandro Arbizu, Patricio Noriega tries; Arbizu con, 2 pen). Referee: Jim Fleming (Scotland).

May 30, at Basil Kenyon Stadium: East London: Western Samoa 32 (Pat Lam, George Leaupepe, Harder tries; Kellet con, 5 pen) Argentina 26 (penalty try, Rodrigo Crexwell tries; Jose Cilley 2 con, 4 pen). Referee: David Bishop (New Zealand).

May 31, at Kings Park: England 27 (Rory Underwood, Tony Underwood tries; Andrew con, 5 pen) Italy 20 (Cuttitta, Vaccari tries; Dominguez 2 con, 2 pen). Referee: Stephen Hilditch (Ireland).

June 4, at Basil Kenyon Stadium: Italy 31 (Vaccari, Mario Gerosa, Dominguez tries; Dominguez 2 con, 4 pen) Argentina 25 (Matias Corral, Rolando Martin, penalty try Cilley tries; Cilley con, pen). Referee: Clayton Thomas (Wales).

June 4, at Kings Park: England 44 (Rory Underwood 2, Neil Back, penalty try, tries; Jon Callard 3 con, 5 pen; Mike Catt drop goal) Western Samoa 22 (Fata Simi 2, Mike Umaga tries; Tupo Fa'amasino 2 con, pen). Referee: Patrick Robin (France).

Pool C
May 27, at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein: Wales 57 (Gareth Thomas 3, Ieuan Evans 2, Andrew Moore, Hemi Taylor tries; Neil Jenkins 5 con, 4 pen) Japan 10 (Osamu Ota 2 tries). Referee: Efrahim Sklar (Argentina).

May 27, at Ellis Park, Johannesburg: New Zealand 43 (Jonah Lomu 2, Josh Kronfeld, Frank Bunce, Glen Osborne tries; Andrew Mehrtens 3 con, 4 pen) Ireland 19 (David Corkery, Denis McBride, Gary Halpin tries; Eric Elwood 2 con). Referee: Wayne Erickson (Australia).

May 31, at Free State Stadium: Ireland 50 (Neil Francis, Simon Geoghegan, Corkery, Eddie Halvey, penalty tries 2, Niall Hogan tries; Paul Burke 6 con, pen) Japan 28 (Sinali-Tui Latu, Ko Izawa, Seiji Hirao, Masanori Takura tries; Yoshihito Yoshida 4 con). Referee: Stef Neethling (South Africa).

May 31, at Ellis Park, Johannesburg: New Zealand 34 (Marc Ellis, Walter Little, Kronfeld tries; Mehrtens 2 con, 4 pen, drop goal) Wales 9 (Jenkins 2 pen, drop goal). Referee: Ed Morrison (England).

June 4, at Free State Stadium: New Zealand 145 (Ellis 6, Eric Rush 3, Jeff Wilson 3, Robin Brooke 2, Osborne 2, Richard Loe, Simon Culhane, Paul Henderson, Craig Dowd, Alama Ieremia tries; Culhane 20 con) Japan 17 (Hiroyuki Kajihara 2 tries; Keiji Hirose 2 con, pen). Referee: George Gadiovic (Canada).

June 4, at Ellis Park: Ireland 24 (Halvey, Nick Popplewell, McBride tries; Elwood 3 con,pen) Wales 23 (Jonathan Humphreys, Taylor tries;Jenkins 2 con, 2 pen; Adrian Davies drop goal). Referee: Ian Rogers (South Africa).

Pool D
May 26, at Olympia Park, Rustenburg: Scotland 89 (Gavin Hastings 4, Kenny Logan 2, Peter Walton 2, Peter Wright, Craig Chalmers, Tony Stanger, Paul Burnell, Graham Shiel tries; Hastings 9 con, 2 pen) Ivory Coast 0. Referee: Felise Vito (Western Samoa).

May 26, at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria: France 38 (Thierry Lacroix 2, Aubin Hueber, Philippe Saint-Andre tries; Lacroix 3 con, 3 pen; Yann Delaigue drop goal) Tonga 10 (Tevita Va'enuku try; Sateki Tu'ipulotu con, pen). Referee: Steve Lander (England).

May 30, at Olympia Park: France 54 (Lacroix 2, Abdelatif Benazzi, William Techoueyres, Sebastien Viars, Guy Accoceberry, Saint-Andre, Arnaud Costes tries; Christophe Deylaud 2, Lacroix 2 con; Lacroix 2 pen) Ivory Coast 18 (Aboubacar Soulama, Aboubakar Camara tries; Victor Kouassi con, 2 pen). Referee: Han Moon-Soo (South Korea).

May 30, at Loftus Versfeld: Scotland 41 (Scott Hastings, Eric Peters, Gavin Hastings tries; Gavin Hastings con, 8 pen) Tonga 5 (Ipolito Fenukitau try). Referee: Barry Leask (Australia).

June 3, at Olympia Park: Tonga 29 (Manakaetau 'Otai, Tu'ipulotu, penalty try, Pouvalu Latukefu tries; Tu'ipulotu 3 con, pen) Ivory Coast 11 (Alfred Okou try; Athanase Dali 2 pen). Referee: Don Reordan (US).

June 3, at Loftus Versfeld: France 22 (Emile Ntamack try; Lacroix con, 5 pen) Scotland 19 (Rob Wainwright try; Gavin Hastings con, 4 pen). Referee: Wayne Erickson (Australia).

June 10, at Kings Park: France 36 (Saint-Andre, Ntamack tries; Lacroix con, 8 pen) Ireland 12 (Elwood 4 pen). Referee: Ed Morrison (England).

June 10, at Ellis Park: South Africa 42 (Chester Williams 4, Chris Rossouw, Mark Andrews tries; Johnson 3 con, 2 pen) Western Samoa 14 (Tatupu, Toetu Nu'uali'itia tries; Fa'amasin 2 con). Referee: Jim Fleming (Scotland).

June 11, at Newlands: England 25 (Tony Underwood try; Andrew con, 5 pen, drop goal) Australia 22 (Smith try; Lynagh con, 5 pen). Referee: David Bishop (New Zealand).

June 11, at Loftus Versfeld: New Zealand 48 (Little 2, Lomu, Mehrtens, Bunce, Sean Fitzpatrick tries; Mehrtens 6 con, 2 pen) Scotland 30 (Doddie Weir 2, Scott Hastings tries; Gavin Hastings 3 con, 3 pen). Referee: Derek Bevan (Wales).

June 17, at Kings Park: South Africa 19 (Ruben Kruger try; Stransky con, 4 pen) France 15 (Lacroix 5 pen). Referee: Derek Bevan (Wales).

June 18, at Newlands: New Zealand 45 (Lomu 4, Kronfeld, Graeme Bachop tries; Mehrtens 3 con, pen, drop goal; Zinzan Brooke drop goal) England 29 (Will Carling 2, Rory Underwood 2 tries; Andrew 3 con, pen). Referee: Stephen Hilditch (Ireland).
Third place play-off
June 22, at Loftus Versfeld: France 19 (Olivier Roumat, Ntamack tries; Lacroix 3 pen) England 9 (Andrew 3 pen). Referee: David Bishop (New Zealand).

June 24, at Ellis Park: South Africa 15 (Stransky 3 pen, 2 drop goals) New Zealand 12 (Mehrtens 3 pen, drop goal) after extra time. Referee: Ed Morrison (England).

Legends of the Cup: Part two

Video: Great World Cup moments - 1995

Setting the scene: The drop goal that helped heal a nation

Doubt and drama on road to '95

Shine of top ref's gold day marred

Tournament action: Springboks' first time unites divided nation

The outcome: Mandela factor unified an emerging nation

How we won it: South Africa - Magic of coaching a world-class team

All Black memories: 'We had the weapons to win it'

Tournament star: Jonah Lomu - The try scoring blitz

Legendary characters of the World Cup

- NZ Herald

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