Twenty-five years ago, the Springboks united the country like never before when they edged New Zealand by 15-12 in the Rugby World Cup final Johannesburg to win their first ever world crown.
On 24 June, the world and South Africa will reflect on one of the most iconic moments in sport and speaking on the SA Rugby Podcast, Pienaar shared some of his emotions of the day that united the Rainbow Nation.
The former Springbok captain gave some very interesting insights about that campaign, united behind a “One Team, One Country” slogan, and said they only realised what they could achieve at the business end of the tournament.
In fact, one of their darkest moments as a team proved to be the catalyst for the remainder of the tournament as well.
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“Coach Kitch Christie named two sides before the tournament and all the players knew where they were going to play, and who would be missing out on the knock-out stages,” said Pienaar.
“The 'Battle of Boet Erasmus' (where the Boks edged Canada in a tough match but lost James Dalton and Pieter Hendriks to suspensions afterwards) almost broke the team, and I don't think I showed the greatest leadership at the time to be honest.
“As luck would have it though, when we lost Pieter and James, we got Chester Williams back. He was the poster child for the RWC before the tournament, but got injured before the start.
“Chester came in and told us that we were uniting the country. We were fairly isolated from the outside world in that we stayed in the team hotel, took the bus to training and back to the hotel. We were not really aware of what was happening outside, to be honest.
“When Chester came in – and he was not a big talker – and told us what effects our performances were having on the psyche of the country, that was a massive boost to us.
“Up to that stage, we had no idea how much it meant to the rest of the country, we were just focussing on getting through our games.”
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Pienaar also eluded to that memorable day 25 years ago, especially when former SA president, the late Mr Nelson Mandela, unexpectedly walked into their change room to wish them luck for the final against the All Blacks.
“On that day – it was scary,” said Pienaar.
“The emotional roller coaster to get to the final, the fact that we were playing an All Black team which included Jonah Lomu…
“On the day, we needed to focus on our execution. We did that. Before the time, Madiba walked into our change room. We did not know he was coming to visit us. It was so emotional, and it could have gone the other way. We had to calm the guys down after that.”
Pienaar believes they played the perfect match: “We had great discipline that day. Managing the margins was crucial. Looking back, we played well that day. Maybe the extra fitness counted in extra time.”
He admitted that it was only perhaps himself and Bok coach Christie who believed they could win the tournament.
“An important aspect at the time was the strength and momentum the Transvaal team (now the Golden Lions) of the time had,” said Pienaar.
“They made up the bulk of the Springboks team that year and it helped maintained the momentum of the side. We managed (as Transvaal) to beat an All Black-laden Auckland team in 1993 and that gave us the knowledge that it is possible.
“Coach Kitch and myself believed that we could win with the depth of our squad. We had some super players in our team.
“That backline of ours was world class, but unknown to the world, and our pack was just as good. We had so many players that would – given focus and energy – be hard to beat.”
Pienaar also credited former Springbok coach Ian McIntosh for his role in preparing the team for what came in 1995.
“A lot of people worked very hard to get the team ready in 1995,” said Pienaar.
“Our results were not the greatest at our return from isolation in1992 and people could not quite understand why. The reality was that we all came from different team cultures and we needed to create one that united us as a team.
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“It actually started with Ian McIntosh. He was such a forward thinker in the game and he certainly laid down some solid principles that we could build on.
“People such as Gysie Pienaar and Hennie Bekker as assistant coaches and Morne du Plessis as team manager also had great rugby minds.”
Pienaar also explained how they had a strategy worked out for every match and how – from the famous Pieter Hendriks try in the opening match against Australia until the match-winning drop goal by Joel Stransky in the final – they were talked through by the coaching staff.
In the podcast – which is available on Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Podcasts – Pienaar also reflects on his chat with referee, Ed Morrison, before the final and the impact that the passing of 95 squad members Christie, Ruben Kruger, Joost van der Westhuizen, Chester Williams, James Small and Ron Holder had on the rest of the squad.
The first seven podcasts, which feature Rassie Erasmus; Branco du Preez, Aled Walters and Jacques Nienaber; Cheslin Kolbe and Handre Pollard; Bongi Mbonambi, Malcolm Marx and Schalk Brits; Joel Stransky; Jurie Roux; and Mark Andrews, and can be accessed here.