Nelson Mandela’s former bodyguard says betting syndicates were behind the trouble.

A former top South African police commander involved with All Blacks security at the 1995 Rugby World Cup says the team was deliberately poisoned before the final against the Springboks.

Rory Steyn - chief bodyguard to President Nelson Mandela - believes betting syndicates were behind the poisoning. The All Blacks lost the Johannesburg final 15-12.

Mr Steyn said there was a huge degree of paranoia within the All Blacks camp, which escalated after the semifinal win over England in Cape Town. The team travelled back to Johannesburg and it was decided among management that they would eat separately to the rest of their hotel's guests in the week leading up to the final.

"I said that makes it easier to target them, I didn't think it was a good idea," Mr Steyn said.


"On the Thursday [June 22] before the final, which was on Saturday [June 24], they were poisoned. About two-thirds of the squad got very sick, properly sick," he said.

"I believe it was the water that was got at, because the food that was served at lunch time ... was chicken burgers and hamburgers."

He said some who ate chicken were sick and some who ate beef were sick.

"I don't think it was the food, I think it was the coffee and the tea and possibly even the drinking water."

He said an investigation by a private detective hired by then All Blacks coach Laurie Mains turned up very little.

"But I know what I saw ... A team of guys lying on the floor, very, very ill."

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Mr Steyn said he didn't think anyone involved with South African rugby played a part in the poisoning but that money and betting syndicates were behind the plot.


"The odds were on the All Blacks."

Rory Steyn and Nelson Mandela in the 1990s. Photo / Supplied
Rory Steyn and Nelson Mandela in the 1990s. Photo / Supplied

Mr Steyn is in New Zealand for TedxAuckland, to talk about his time as Nelson Mandela's chief bodyguard.

An experienced police officer, he first met Mr Mandela on the day of his inauguration as South Africa's president in May 1994. At the time, Mr Steyn said, he thought the new leader was a terrorist.

But on that day the President did something that began to dismantle Mr Steyn's 30 years of conditioning under the apartheid system - sharing an exchange with an "old school" police colonel, bringing the man to tears with his rhetoric of oneness in a country that had been plagued by racism for almost four decades.

"Part of the training I'd undergone was with the special [police] branch which would involve political crime ... So I was of the opinion that [Mandela] should have been hanged way back in 1964 as a terrorist," Mr Steyn said.

"I thought that he and his party wanted to establish a communist state in South Africa and sweep all decent people into the sea - so that was pretty much the mindset I was in."

Rory Steyn (above) said he saw a different side to Nelson Mandela during an exchange with an elderly white police colonel. Photo / AP
Rory Steyn (above) said he saw a different side to Nelson Mandela during an exchange with an elderly white police colonel. Photo / AP

When Mr Mandela arrived at the park for a meet-and-greet, he'd been President for less than an hour, Mr Steyn said.

When it was time for him to leave again, he took a detour - walking straight across a reception hall towards an elderly police colonel.

Mr Mandela stopped in front of the colonel and put out his hand.

"He said 'colonel, I just want you to know that today, you have become our police and there's no more you and us - I'm now the President of South Africa - and I need you to know that from today, you are our police." The colonel began to cry.

"It was the most extraordinary exchange. I didn't expect to hear anything like that," Mr Steyn said.

"One of the great things about Madiba [Mandela] is that he is exactly how you perceive him ... He would speak to another head of state the same way he would speak to a gardener ... He was absolutely how you perceive him."

Watch: 1995 World Cup - In their own words

In a range of video interviews with Wynne Gray for 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.