The Springboks or the fragile unity of South Africa
20 years ago, South Africa won its first rugby World Cup, at the expense of New Zealand (15-12), symbol of a World cup hindered by suspicions to South Africans, under political pressure (president Nelson Mandela) according to certain observers.
On June 24th, 1995, the third rugby World Cup found its champion, in the person of the team of South Africa, organizing country, at Ellis Park (Johannesburg). After extra time and by a drop goal of the fly-half Joel Stransky, it won the Webb Ellis trophy - of the name of the founder of this sport, in the XIXth century-, in front of New Zealand, nevertheless favorite, with players as fly-half Andrew Merhtens or winger Jonah Lomu.
Return in the cursed country
What incites me to make this article on this subject is refered to a paper of l'Équipe mag, weekly extension of the French sports daily l'Équipe, on the return of Jonah Lomu in South Africa, at the beginning of the year on 2015. Or, about 20 years after the event. In 40 years from now on, under dialysis, while waiting for a new transplant of loins, former All Black 3/4 wing returns in South Africa, where 20 years earlier, he became the first "star" of the professionalized rugby, with 7 tries in the World Cup, while losing finale against Springboks. Being the latter his pet peeve because Lomu has never marked tries against them during its international career.
From Cape Town to Johannesburg, Lomu shared its passion of rugby with the young black rugby players of townships, found former opponents become the friends such the flanker and captain of that time François Pienaar, 3/4 wing James Small or still scrum-half Joost Van der Westhuizen, with whom he evoke souvenirs of this finale, surely, but also on the questions of health. In particular with Van der Westhuizen because the latter is reached by what is called the Charcot syndrome since 2011, incurable disease paralyzing gradually the body and the mortal in five years after the diagnosis. As a result, both for the one and for the other one, it resounds as last time before the mower arrives at their respective door.
A golden legend...
This world cup 1995 was immortalized in the cinema by Clint Eastwood and his movie Invictus. In particular when president Mandela (interpreted by Morgan Freeman) handed the trophy to Pienaar (interpreted by Matt Damon), at the end of the match. This image of a black president putting back a title to an Afrikaner (white) was a symbol of the rainbow-nation, wanted by Madiba from the beginning of its presidency in 1994. And somewhere, this victory of Springboks in 1995, which had the image to be the team of the regime of apartheid until now, was also his, to end in a (relative) unity of the country, for lack of having applied (very) partially the program for which he was elected, in particular with the blacks, who made up the majority of South African population.
In brief, a golden legend fast settled down with South African rugby players at late 1990s, become the heroes of the homeland. And Lomu, according to the article in l'Équipe mag, recognized a "spiritual strength" on behalf of Mandela with Springboks, indicating besides that the South African president "had made a dream and this dream was too much tall for us [All Blacks]."
... less and less solid
This golden legend is nevertheless turned down the corner of, from the beginning. Indeed, the semi-final between South Africa and France should not have been played according to certain specialists of the rugby, considering the deluge which had beaten down on Durban. And at this moment, that would have been les Bleus of centre Thierry Lacroix, of number 8 Abdel Benazzi or still scrum-half Fabien Galthié which would have gone to finale. As a result, the suspicion of political pressure at the highest level of the South African State was not moved away. Especially as the referee of the match, the Welsh Derek Bevan, was suspected of being bought by South Africans because of the fact that it received a golden watch on behalf of the South African Federation of rugby, shortly after finale, that it granted the try of springbok number 8 Ruben Kruger, the latter admitting later that it would have of the validated being and finally no refusal to grant tries for the French, in particular to Benazzi continuation in a French opportunity a few centimeters away from the line of touch-in-goal. Besides, the New Zealand media, basing itself on testimonies of the staff All black of that time, suspected a poisoning because half of the New Zealand team was a victim of food poisoning two days before of finale.
But especially, the shadow of doping roams around the world champions 1995. After all, it is a period when products drugs as the EPO are commonplace in the professional sport (cf Tour de France 1998 and the Festina affair). This grave suspicion is strengthened by the waves of diseases affecting springboks of the 1990s. In a report spread in 2014, the broadcast Stade 2 (on France 2, to see video below), it was question because the case of Van der Westhuizen was evoked, as well as those of Tinus Linee, former centre the 90s, not world champion, but who died from the Charcot syndrome in November, 2014 (a few months after the report), and of the number 8 Kruger, died in 2010 of a brain tumor. That is cold in the back! These people seem to be sacrificed for an openly political cause.
And it falls very badly, at a moment when South Africa is in the grip of a latent xenophobia (not to say afrophobia), to a dominant party (African national congress, ANC) where the corruption became widespread, to a president (Jacob Zuma) little inspired and stuck in affairs, one of the cements of the South African unity show its feet of clay, especially as the africanisation of springboks, ceaselessly discussed for more than 20 years, has difficulty in becoming a reality because the rugby remains (still) the sport of the white minority.
P.S: Videos below are worth being looked, I assure it you, dear readers. Even if they're in French, and not at all in English, except for interviews of former rugby players.