Joost van der Westhuizen today warned South Africa’s World Cup rivals that his squad are motivated by the unifying spirit of 1995 and the historic day the Springboks were handed the World Cup by president Nelson Mandela.
South Africa will tomorrow name their side to face New Zealand in the quarter-finals, a replay of the final eight years ago won in dramatic fashion by Joel Stransky’s extra-time drop goal.
It was, famously, “a win that united a nation“. And yet the Springboks entered this tournament under the weight of unsettling reports of racism and division within the current squad.
Van der Westhuizen is still prickly over the issue and would love nothing more than to bury that “perception” and for his team to cast all South African memories back to that day in 1995.
He wants to prove the Springboks are a united team playing for a united nation.
“Nothing will change what happened in 1995. The fun of it wasn’t about winning the World Cup – although that was great – it was about bringing a nation together,” he said.
“I think that team did a lot that some politicians could not do in their life, bring a nation together.
“In that sense it will never happen again, but to take it back again and let the people relive that moment would mean a lot.”
After the initial allegations and the episode where white lock Geo Cronje allegedly refused to room with black squad-mate Quinton Davids, the Springbok camp was rocked by a 12,000-word dossier containing detailed allegations surrounding that incident and beyond.
Cronje was later cleared, but the publication of the dossier, written by former Springboks communications manager Mark Keohane, caused the focus to shift from South Africa’s World Cup campaign.
From the outside it appeared South Africa were a side in disarray, but Van der Westhuizen insisted the episode simply helped forge unity.
And after again finishing bottom of the Tri-Nations, the skipper believes the Springboks have grown in quality, unity and mental belief by spending the last two months in each other’s back pockets.
“I would say if the unity was just on the service we wouldn’t have played the way we have, with the style of a family,” he said.
“That only comes through time. We have played the last two months together so it is beginning to come.
“The mental strength has gone up 100%, the players have learned a lot. They have stuck together.
“Unity comes from time together, playing together, just each other’s thinking.
“The disunity was a perception created by one person in South Africa and has been run by the media.
“Luckily we know what the truth is and the only way we can show it is on the field. We can’t talk.”
And that, he warned, could spell danger for the All Blacks who have never beaten South Africa at a World Cup.
“We can play one of three or four gameplans and it is just a question of when and where,” he said.
“If we can make the right calls on the day, then we can definitely win.”