Twenty years ago the All Blacks were involved in what most rugby folk consider the best of the seven World Cups.

It was the tournament where Jonah Lomu, rugby's first global superstar, announced his prodigious talent. It was also a tournament that is credited in large part for galvanising a fractured home country behind the most unlikeliest of teams.

The Springboks were seen as puppets of the internationally condemned apartheid era but when the President Nelson Mandela wore captain Francois Pienaar's No.6 jersey ahead of the final it was seen as the greatest gesture of reconciliation imaginable.

All that is for later, however. Long-time Herald rugby scribe Wynne Gray followed the All Blacks during the controversial and sometimes bitter lead-in to RWC '95, and during the tournament and its aftermath. This is the first of his three-part retrospective.

As the All Blacks wait to begin their 1995 Rugby World Cup campaign on the high veld in Johannesburg, they watch the host Springboks deal to the defending Wallaby champions 27-18 at Cape Town.

It is a peep into the future, a look at the frenzied atmosphere and the power from the Springbok pack, their strong defence with the axis of Joost van der Westhuizen and Joel Stransky to deliver victory.

Five weeks later the All Blacks and their greatest rivals, the Springboks, square off at Ellis Park in the most extraordinary conclusion of any RWC.

Deep into extra-time, as the Boks press to break the scoring deadlock at a scrum in the All Black 22, Stransky over-rules captain Francois Pienaar who calls a backrow move.
Stransky likes his chances with a drop kick.

Advertisement

"I hit it sweet and it was spinning and rotating nicely and going in the right direction and I knew it could not miss," he says.

Seven minutes later referee Ed Morrison blows time on the most dramatic 100 minutes of World Cup final action. The Springboks win the title at their first attempt and the All Blacks are left to rue their misfortune.

POOL PLAY - LOMU ARRIVES

They begin their pool play matches against Ireland which for three All Blacks survivors, Sean Fitzpatrick, Ian Jones and Graeme Bachop, is a reminder of their previous tournament failure in Dublin.

Ireland's solitary win in the Five Nations then defeat against Italy earlier in May suggests they will struggle against an All Black team who want to play at pace. They also have Jonah Lomu returning to test action.

His first touch comes in the 21st minute when he bounces aside Irish loose-forwards Denis McBride and David Corkery to create a try for Walter Little.

In a range of video interviews with Wynne Gray for nzherald.co.nz and a written series in The NZ Herald , the All Blacks campaign manager Brian Lochore, manager Colin Meads, coach Laurie Mains, team Dr Mike Bowen, captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Springbok Joel Stransky and referee Ed Morrison give us their insights into events surrounding the 1995 RWC.

That Lomu clatter and loose-forward support play becomes a telling weapon for the All Blacks with the massive wing showing his menace when he gets the ball just inside his 22 and churns round and through four tacklers ploughing 65m until he is collared and offloads to Kronfeld for a try.

"I have just come back to test rugby and I just wanted to play out of my skin and make the next game and that is all I tried to do," Lomu says after the match.

 Jonah Lomu leaves tacklers in his wake during the 43-19 win over Ireland.
Jonah Lomu leaves tacklers in his wake during the 43-19 win over Ireland.

For Kronfeld the support job is a bit of a mission.

"The thing with Jonah is that he is really strong-he is so easy to follow but so hard to support," Kronfeld said. "You don't know whether he is going to pop the ball up or keep going because he quite often props when you think you are going to get a pass and then he goes again."

The All Blacks are under way. Captain Fitzpatrick plays a record 64th cap before cutting his lip which gives Norm Hewitt his first cap, Kronfeld, Andrew Mehrtens and Glenn Osborne excel as the team's youth policy flourishes.

There are still injury worries with Robin Brooke and Ian Jones complaining of calf problems, backup Jamie Joseph has a groin strain and Zinzan Brooke is still struggling with his Achilles issue.

Wales are next and coach Alex Evans delivers a preposterous theory that their losing streak is only a "psychological thing."

The All Blacks 34-9 victory heartens Mains who decides, after an approach from Fitzpatrick, to use the rest of the squad in the final pool game with Japan.

Loose-forward Paul Henderson is picked as captain, Simon Culhane scores a World Cup record 45 points from a try and 20 conversions and Marc Ellis hogs six tries.

Down the other side of the draw, Springbok hooker James Dalton and wing Pieter Hendriks are suspended for fighting against Canada and the Boks bring in national favourite Chester Williams as a replacement.

Things are getting tasty off the field too as the Wallabies warn promoter Ross Turnbull and business partner Mike Hill to stay clear as rumours grow about professional rugby.

The Wallabies fall to England and Rob Andrews' injury time dropped goal in the quarters to set up a clash with the All Blacks who deal to Scotland in their lacklustre quarterfinal.
The final four are the All Blacks, England, Springboks and France.

In a range of video interviews with Wynne Gray for nzherald.co.nz and a written series in The NZ Herald , the All Blacks campaign manager Brian Lochore, manager Colin Meads, coach Laurie Mains, team Dr Mike Bowen, captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Springbok Joel Stransky and referee Ed Morrison give us their insights into events surrounding the 1995 RWC.

THE SEMIFINALS - LOMU WALKS OVER CAT

In Durban, thunderstorms delay the Boks-France match by 90 minutes as a posse of black women brush pools of water from the ground. TVNZ is inundated with irate callers who set their video recorders for the match while the Boks are relieved it goes ahead because they would have lost on a count of suspended players.

Tension escalates in Johannesburg with accusations Bok sympathisers are secretly taping the All Blacks training sessions.

Tighthead prop Craig Dowd edges Richard Loe for semifinal selection, Osborne is fit at fullback and Mike Brewer comes in for Joseph on the blindside while amongst the mountain of faxes, there is one memorable message from a young Kiwi.

"Remember rugby is a team game so all 14 of you pass the ball to Jonah," it says.
Someone on the Herald news-desk urges me to tone down the number of stories about Jonah but no one at home can grasp the pandemonium associated with his appearances until he returns to play for Counties.

In a range of video interviews with Wynne Gray for nzherald.co.nz and a written series in The NZ Herald , the All Blacks campaign manager Brian Lochore, manager Colin Meads, coach Laurie Mains, team Dr Mike Bowen, captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Springbok Joel Stransky and referee Ed Morrison give us their insights into events surrounding the 1995 RWC.

The All Blacks semifinal is a test of the blueprint Mains advocate three years earlier when he, Earle Kirton and Peter Thorburn are chosen as selectors. They know they cannot play teams like England with a game based on forward power and tactical kicking; they have to find athletic skilled youngsters to drive a different approach.

"Most of them (players) have delivered although there is still a looseness about their game but with the style we have to play there will always be some of that," Mains says.

Lomu starts the onslaught when he turns to retrieve a pass, pushes off Tony Underwood, beats Will Carling and wades through Mike Catt to score. A Kronfeld try, Zinzan Brooke drop goal, another Lomu touchdown, and the All Blacks were 25-0 ahead in a point a minute scoring torrent.

When Lomu scores his fourth try the All Blacks hold a massive lead before they relax some of their chokehold in the last 10 minutes to win 45-29. It is a magnificent answer from Lomu who is subjected, the night before, to stern inquiries from Mains about his impact.

Everyone is fit and plans to get the ball wide with waves of support players, are in harmony.

"It worked so fantastically against England. I don't think in all my time I have played or coached rugby, after a game I was able to say to myself, that was a set of tactics that just worked famously and they had no answer to it," says Mains.

THE FINAL - ILLNESS HITS ALL BLACKS

The dream final is set, the Springboks will host the All Blacks with an audience of 62,500 at Ellis Park.

Everything is on track two days before the final until Mains and manager Colin Meads began to feel unwell when out at dinner with those not playing in the final. When they get back to the hotel, they find Richard Loe being ill in the garden while in the foyer, Zinzan Brooke does not have a good message about others.

Half the team is vomiting and has diarrhoea. The urns of tea and coffee the team drank from at lunch are fingered later as the source of the illness.

In a range of video interviews with Wynne Gray for nzherald.co.nz and a written series in The NZ Herald , the All Blacks campaign manager Brian Lochore, manager Colin Meads, coach Laurie Mains, team Dr Mike Bowen, captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Springbok Joel Stransky and referee Ed Morrison give us their insights into events surrounding the 1995 RWC.

Team doctor Mike Bowen recalls how Mains felt they "might be tampered with and as it turned out, he was absolutely right."

The next day the All Black management hold a meeting in Meads room because he is too ill to move far. They talk about calling off the match but decide to keep the issue quiet.

Bowen manages 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 says.

On the morning of the final, the All Blacks are better but lack 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 to South Africa and nil to New Zealand," says Lochore.

In a range of video interviews with Wynne Gray for nzherald.co.nz and a written series in The NZ Herald , the All Blacks campaign manager Brian Lochore, manager Colin Meads, coach Laurie Mains, team Dr Mike Bowen, captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Springbok Joel Stransky and referee Ed Morrison give us their insights into events surrounding the 1995 RWC.

During the game, Lochore notices they try 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 takes his seat amongst the rising volume of noise at Ellis Park, Mains ponders the injustice. His All Black troops give him some hope.

In a range of video interviews with Wynne Gray for nzherald.co.nz and a written series in The NZ Herald , the All Blacks campaign manager Brian Lochore, manager Colin Meads, coach Laurie Mains, team Dr Mike Bowen, captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Springbok Joel Stransky and referee Ed Morrison give us their insights into events surrounding the 1995 RWC.

"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 says. As a country neutral referee, Morrison is picked to control the final and 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.

The Boks are attuned to drama throughout the tournament, they are extremely fit and their confidence lifts under the guidance of coach Kitch Christie. They back their defence to push danger man Lomu back in field towards their stronger defenders, rather than letting him get free on the outside.

When referee Morrison raises his left arm and whistles fulltime, the scoreboard tells of the hosts' triumph: South Africa 15 New Zealand 12.

Jubilant chaos envelopes the stadium, Johannesburg and the Rainbow Nation.