Legend Francois Pienaar hoping for repeat of 1995

On June 24, a group of middle-aged men met at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. They swapped stories, posed for photos and then watched a film together.

Legend Francois Pienaar hoping for repeat of 1995

They were the stars, and they knew how the film would end. Because these 24 men were the heroes of South Africa’s 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning team, and the film they were watching was the replay of the final against New Zealand.

Francois Pienaar, the captain, had never seen it. To his surprise, barely any of his former team-mates had either.

Pienaar and his colleagues live-tweeted their evening, reacting to opportunities taken and missed as if they were happening in front of them rather than two decades before.

Their actions struck a chord. In total there were 118 million tweets and retweets including the hashtag #1995reunited — a figure which stunned even the unflappable Pienaar himself.

Today they ride again. Every member of that side will arrive in London this morning, before enjoying another reunion dinner tonight.

On Saturday, they will attend the Springboks’ World Cup semi-final with New Zealand at Twickenham, resplendent in the same team blazers they wore 20 years ago.

As the current Springbok team look to make history, they will have living legends shadowing their every move.

Pienaar is confident Heyneke Meyer’s men will do so.

“The rest of the 1995 team arrives in London in the morning and we will reunite in the evening,” said Pienaar at a Beyond Sport conference.

“On Saturday we will be in our blazers watching the game. We will make sure we don’t see the team in the week as they will obviously be preparing, but we will be there as fans on Saturday.

“When you play the sport you are an athlete, but as soon as you retire you become a critic. Then you get a bit older and go back to being fans again. We are fans now and will be cheering them on.

“Will it be a similar reaction if the Springboks win this World Cup? I don’t want to compare them, as every one is unique and special.

“If they win there will be so much pride. There will be fires burning and celebration until the morning, that’s for sure.

“And sport deals in hope. We had a very special moment, and it is well documented. But that documentation cannot show how sport gave South Africa as a country such hope.”

Yet there is a fear South Africa are relying on hope alone to beat the All Blacks. Steve Hansen’s side produced one of the finest displays in living memory against the French in the last eight while South Africa, who lost their opening game to Japan, scraped past Wales. But Pienaar is having none of it.

“It motivates us beyond belief,” said Pienaar when asked whether South Africa were fired by the idea of knocking the All Blacks’ off their pedestal.

“This weekend will be bone-crunching. We have great respect for the All Blacks and against France, they flipped the switch.

“But we like playing them and we like being underdogs.

“We had an opportunity to beat them in the Rugby Championship and we didn’t take that opportunity. When it comes this weekend we have to grab it, and it will go to the wire.

“From a Springbok perspective there was an over-reaction to that Japan defeat. But it has been a rallying call for the team. And overall, it has been the best World Cup as a whole, with pure drama every weekend. This weekend it will come down to a decision, a player who acts badly under pressure or something brilliant that will win the game.”

Yet no matter what the result, the two coaches will enjoy a beer after the game. Meyer and Hansen have cemented a routine where the winning coach buys the other a beer post-match — and the Springbok believes his side will have to overcome the best team in the history of rugby if he is to avoid shelling out on Saturday night.

“I really mean this, it’s not just talk: This is the best team that has ever played the game,” said Meyer.

“In saying that, you have to believe you can beat them.

“We’ve started a tradition where the first time I’d lost I was very down, Steve (Hansen) came over and I think that’s great about rugby — he came over and brought me a beer.

“The winning coach always brings the beer now. So what I really respect about Steve is that after our win he took it like a man, and said ’I’m waiting for that beer’. Hopefully I can give Steve a case of beers on Saturday!”

Influential lock Lood de Jager has boosted South Africa by beating his foot injury in time to start Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against New Zealand.

Veteran lock Victor Matfield takes a seat on the bench, the 38-year-old primed for his 126th cap against the defending champions at Twickenham.

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis will also start for the Springboks, with the hand wound he sustained in 23-19 victory over Wales to be strapped up.

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