Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: High Drama on Highveld in historic series victory

Wynne Gray looks back at how the All Blacks clinched victory in part two of his story about New Zealand’s first series win in South Africa.

"It will be war. I know how the team are feeling because I can give an arm and a leg for this one," Springbok captain Gary Teichmann said.

The atmosphere curdled through Johannesburg as the Springboks faced the dread of surrendering 68 years of hosting dominance against their greatest All Black rivals.
As the tourists ate dinner on the first night in their hotel, a young woman approached captain Sean Fitzpatrick at his table.

"Fitzpatrick," she growled. "You know what I hate about you. I hate the way you tackled Teichmann last week."

The All Blacks captain laughed off her abuse in the way he had channelled another intended insult - "that he was the JR Ewing of world rugby" - into the impetus for a famous series win.

Fitzpatrick's public vibe was that he and his team would not be broken this time.

"It is tough, though," he told the Herald. "It does motivate you but it also gets you down and, in the last few days, I have tried to insulate myself from the insults. I don't read the papers and try to get away and do things like golf.

"There have been times when I have sat in my room and just been overwhelmed by it all. The abuse goes on but I am determined not to react, not to show it has any effect. But I am sure you can understand what it is like day after day after day."

Two curtain- raisers were played before Fitzpatrick led his side out as Grant Nisbett settled into his commentary, with Bernie McCahill as his sidekick for the television coverage to New Zealand.

French referee Didier Mene whistled the start and Springboks first five-eighths Joel Stransky kicked off with a slight breeze behind him.

Both teams refused to seek the safety of the touchline and, from an early turnover, Springboks lock Hannes Strydom was driven across for a fourth-minute try. That did not deter the All Blacks from their attacking strategy.

Sean Fitzpatrick and John Hart. Photo / Getty Images
Sean Fitzpatrick and John Hart. Photo / Getty Images

Jeff Wilson scored twice with his kick-and-retrieve specialty counter-attack before livewire fullback Christian Cullen, after a superb bust and offload from Frank Bunce, was gunned down short of the line.

It felt like a lost chance but, from the subsequent scrum, Zinzan Brooke scored from a triple scissors move, codenamed Varsity, pulled off with all the panache of the originating Going brothers.

"It was an old move that Water [Little] and I used with Graeme Bachop against the Barbarians at Twickenham in 1989," Brooke says. "We only talked about it the day before the test and no All Black team had used it for years."

It helped the All Blacks lead 21-11 at halftime.

"Against any other opponent, we might have felt secure," lock Ian Jones says of the All Blacks lead. "But we knew that, in their desperation, the Springboks would come back strongly. As the second half unfolded, the heat, the altitude and the physicalness of the Boks began to take their toll. It was apparent our energy levels were beginning to run low."

In his halftime assessment, McCahill thought the All Blacks needed a 10-15 point buffer going into the last 10 minutes if they were to win the series.

Hart delivered a comprehensive talk on the field.

"The big message was self-belief," he says. "I told the team they had to keep taking it to the Boks because I sensed they were tired. I knew we were tired, too, but once you start talking about conserving and defending, you're effectively conceding the initiative.

"If we sat on the lead and let them back in the game, they'd really lift, but if we kept the pressure on, they'd have to make the play.

"Perhaps we overdid it. There were a couple of instances in the second half when we kept moving the ball across the field looking for space until the movement broke down and we gave away a scrum. We'd have been better off taking the ball into a midfield ruck and getting some control."

Wilson was having a few dizzy spells and Zinzan Brooke was battling the erratic heart rhythms of his atrial fibrillation.

Josh Kronfeld on the burst. Photo / Photosport
Josh Kronfeld on the burst. Photo / Photosport

"The whole time your mind was working overtime, searching for little ways to get an edge," says Fitzpatrick. "They were bashing the hell out of us and we were bashing the hell out of them. I guess that's always the way it has been between the two countries.

"It's not like you are just playing rugby, you are really playing your rivals. The drama that day was immense. Each team was just winning their own lineout ball and every scrum, no matter where it was set, seemed like it had all the pressure of a 5m scrum."

Stoppages began to infest the test and when Springboks halfback Joost van der Westhuizen went down hurt again, Brooke slapped him on the back and had a word.

"On TV, it would've looked like friendly concern but it was far from it. He was telling him, in very plain English, to get up and get on with it," All Blacks physio David Abercrombie says.

The All Blacks were tiring, too, and Ruben Kruger scored from a driving surge, then van der Westhuizen when Cullen let a ball bounce. The Boks were only a point behind, 24-23, had all the momentum and 17 minutes left to square the series.

"The first half, we did all the things we wanted to," said Brooke, "but as we got into a bit of a defensive mindset later, we mucked up a few things."

First-five Simon Culhane was forced off after playing for five minutes with a fractured left wrist and utility reserve Jon Preston raced on to the park. He hadn't touched the ball when the All Blacks won a penalty.

"Goldie [Wilson] was saying, 'I'll do it, I'll do it'," Fitzpatrick remembers. "I asked Jon if he wanted Goldie to take the kick and he said, no, he was fine with kicking it. He hit it sweetly. That's when he got nicknamed 'the Cleaner'. You know, he comes in late and cleans up the mess."

Sean Fitzpatrick celebrates win over South Africa in Pretoria. Photo / Photosport
Sean Fitzpatrick celebrates win over South Africa in Pretoria. Photo / Photosport

Michael Jones intercepted 45m out from the line but was cut down and the injured Ian Jones and Josh Kronfeld were substituted.

Stransky countered with a penalty before Preston replied with an enormous 51m strike, then Zinzan Brooke dropped a 30m goal.

"I thought it was going to hit the posts but then it just sneaked inside," he says.

The Boks needed a converted try to draw and they attacked with all that intent. They won a penalty and van der Westhuizen tapped and was tackled illegally by Robin Brooke.

"I wasn't back 10m and it could have been a penalty try," the All Black lock says. "My heart was in my mouth until I looked up and saw the ref give them just another penalty.

"Then we had to defend that forward drive and, when he finally blew that up and called off the game, I was absolutely shattered."

Jones lay pinned under the weight of giant Springboks lock Kobus Weise as referee Didier Meme ruled trapped ball and fulltime. Even when Weise extricated himself, Jones lay exhausted on the turf.

"It was just a culmination of what the moment meant," he says. "We had achieved something no other New Zealand side had managed. I was spent. It just seemed so much longer than 80 minutes."

Olo Brown, Fitzpatrick and Craig Dowd lay on the ground for some time before the captain raised himself to his knees and thumped his fists into the turf.

Zinzan Brooke flopped on to his back, arms outstretched while the effervescent Justin Marshall jigged about with his arms aloft.

Dr John Mayhew tended to Jones as the jubilant coaching staff of Hart, Ross Cooper and Gordon Hunter waited near the tunnel.

Eventually Cooper encouraged them to celebrate this special piece of history with their men. As Hart later walked off, his arm draped around Jones, the rest of the touring squad performed a haka from the stands.

"The front row had confronted South Africa where it really counts," says Hart, "knowing that if the battle was lost, we were finished. The locks were massively outweighed but never shaded in any other respect.

"Kronfeld was fearless and unflagging, Michael Jones was the defensive lion, and Zinzan Brooke the footballing genius who can be part of the team while remaining true to his own instincts.

"In the backs, Marshall had been creative without shirking the grinding duties. He was one of our best defenders. Wilson's display in the first half was a sublime blend of speed and skill, while Bunce was a standout player in 1996, an absolute rock on defence whose pace on the outside break surprised many and who saw and exploited opposition defences' preoccupation with the threat of [Jonah] Lomu, Wilson and [Glen] Osborne.

"In many ways, Preston's performance was the most remarkable of all. For those 15 minutes, his decision-making and execution at first-five was coolly efficient.

"It was a fantastic display of temperament from someone who'd played very little rugby at first-five and only one match, five years earlier, of anything remotely approaching this intensity."

The All Blacks invited the touring New Zealand media into their changing room for a rare insight into the aftermath and the exhausted celebrations.

The players were shattered and most fell asleep that night not long after returning to their hotel while the coaching and management group gathered in Hart's room to watch a replay.

"After 15 minutes, however, Fitzy and I were the only ones left awake," Mayhew says. "By halftime, I was the only one in the room still going."

- Herald on Sunday

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 27 Sep 2016 09:34:36 Processing Time: 634ms