The doctor who treated sick All Blacks before the 1995 World Cup final in South Africa has opened up about his experiences with the 'violently sick party' in Johannesburg.
Mike Bowen, 73, is 'hanging up his stethoscope' after 44 years at Glenview Medical Centre and rated working with the All Blacks as a career highlight. But Bowen told Stuff that it also brought the most testing moment of his career.
Two days before the '95 World Cup final in South Africa, 27 out of the 35 touring party fell violently sick.
Bowen - the sole doctor - frantically dosed the players up with fluids and a variety of injections to stem the vomiting.
"That was the what I call the poisoning episode," Bowen told Stuff.
"It seemed highly unusual that you get such a large number of a touring team sick."
He pored over what the players had eaten, but there was no clear pattern.
Something could have been slipped into their drinks, Bowen said, but there's no way of knowing.
"None of them were a hundred per cent when they played.
"But there wasn't a lot you could do."
Andrew Mehrtens and Jeff Wilson were still vomiting on the day of the match.
"Jeff Wilson actually vomited on the pitch and had to come off."
The etching on the Webb Ellis Cup will always say South Africa won the title in 1995 but the spectre of whether the All Blacks were poisoned on the eve of that match will not go away.
All Blacks coach Laurie Mains was adamant afterwards his side, who were effected in their 15-12 extra-time defeat to the Springboks, were poisoned by a waitress who has become known as 'Suzie'. He even hired a private investigator to try to get to the bottom of the matter.
"My wife knew a private investigator in South Africa and, after we came home, we contacted him and asked him to see what he could find out, if anything, because I knew all the doors would be shut," Mains said. "He had moderate success and did establish a black lady had been employed by the hotel two days before we arrived and that day after we got sick, she disappeared completely."
Several months later, Mains recieved word from financial contacts in London that bookmakers were behind the incident. He didn't get much further with it and didn't want the immense disappointment to infest his life.
"I would have loved to have won that World Cup for New Zealand rugby but it wasn't to be," he said.
Everything had been on track until two days before the final when Mains and manager Colin Meads began to feel unwell when out at dinner with those not playing in the final. When they got back to the hotel, they found Richard Loe being ill in the garden and in the foyer Zinzan Brooke does not have a good message about others.
Half the team were vomiting and had diarrhoea. The urns of tea and coffee the team drank from at lunch are fingered later as the source of the illness.
Bowen recalled how Mains felt they "might be tampered with and as it turned out, he was absolutely right".
The next day the All Black management held a meeting in Meads room because he was too ill to move far. They talked about calling off the match but decided to keep the issue quiet.
"I was the one who said we don't have to tell anyone," Mains said. "I didn't want South Africa to know we were crook. It was the worst thing I did."
Bowen managed the emergency on his own which he rates as the most stressful in his lengthy sports medicine career. There were no extra All Blacks medical staff and they did not want to alert their rivals to their plight.
"It was unlikely to have been something that occurred incidentally or without some provocation but I have no way of proving that was the case," Bowen told the Herald in 2015.
Campaign manager Brian Lochore recalls the dinner when they might have been poisoned.
"I was just going into the dining room and they said, 'no, no, the All Blacks are in this room over here'. I went, 'I thought we were having our meal over here' and they said, 'no, no, there's a room over here for the All Blacks' and I thought that was strange."
On the morning of the final, the All Blacks were better but lacked energy and at altitude that hurt.
"If you had asked me what the score was going to be on the Saturday morning I thought about 30-0 to South Africa," Lochore said.
"I don't think any of them will ever get over it because, if you can't play to the best of your ability on any given day because of some outside influence - and I'm not pointing the finger at anyone - it's always going to bug you forever."
During the game, Lochore noticed the All Blacks are trying to create things too quickly, as if they cannot concentrate or feel they are not going to last. It is a crushing and unsatisfying end to so much hard work.
As he took his seat among the rising volume of noise at Ellis Park, Mains pondered the injustice. His All Black troops gave him some hope.
"Every one of those players and many were fearfully ill during that game, showed great courage. I had high regard for them anyway but what they did in that game stepped them up further in my admiration," he said.
Referee Ed Morrison has few clues about the All Blacks drama. He wonders why Steve McDowall is sweating profusely after a few scrums and then watches Jeff Wilson being sick but it is only after the test, in conversation with Mains, he discovers the situation.
"Credit to Sean Fitzpatrick he never mentioned it or made any excuses or brought it to my attention and I will always be grateful for that," Morrison recalls.
Mains would probably still love to find out exactly what happened but, equally, has tried to let go.
"If you let this sit inside you and you let setbacks and disappointments sit with you, it will eat you up," he said. "But I'm not one of those people."
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