I don’t remember any of us being surprised when the final whistle went; it was more a sense of satisfaction and real accomplishment, that we had achieved the goal we had set.
“I was asked this week if I still had to pinch myself about the fact that we beat the mighty All Blacks in the final, against all the odds. The answer is no. We were so confident, so motivated, so fit and strong, and we knew what we were capable of. All we had to do was go out there and play our best rugby and that’s what we did.
“We had trained hard, we were extremely fit, and we were the unknown factor going into the tournament, and then when the final came around.
“Our win in the opening game against Australia was massive because it cemented the belief in us that we could beat anyone.
“In the days before the final we knew that if we could stop Jonah Lomu we would beat them. I don’t remember any of us being surprised when the final whistle went; it was more a sense of satisfaction and real accomplishment, that we had achieved the goal we had set.
“But let me go back to the start of the day. The nerves were real; no one had slept well. My first sense of the occasion came when the team went for a short jog around the streets of Sandton, where we were staying. What stood out were the many people in the streets who were cheering and shouting our names; it was a wonderful start to the day.
“After breakfast we were told to go back to our rooms and rest. The big wait is the worst part of any match-day, but this time it was horrible. I was rooming with Mark Andrews (who was picked to play out of position at No 8) and the nerves started to churn. The tension was something else. We chatted a bit and watched some TV, but it wasn’t pleasant.
“Only once we got into the team room a bit later did the nerves settle. Our team manager Morne du Plessis gave us his final talk, and what an inspirational message it was, and then (coach) Kitch (Christie) spoke. We were pumped up, confident and full of belief.
“We climbed on the bus and made our way to Ellis Park, and what a trip it was. It was just incredible. Everywhere you looked there were South African and Springbok flags, and the fans were young and old, black and white, and at that time, with us being a predominantly white team, getting that kind of support was very special.
“A while later, after we’d had a walk on the field and were back in the change-room, the door opened and in walked Madiba in his Bok jersey with a No 6 on his back. That moment will live with me forever. He wished us luck and had a few private words with some of the players. It was magical, special and so inspiring.
“It was then game time. We walked down the long tunnel at Ellis Park and lined up next to the All Blacks and that’s when I noticed for the first time just how big Jonah was. I’d seen him in action and seen what he’d done to England in the semi-finals, but to see him in person, he was a daunting prospect. He was massive and was definitely a little intimidating. We had worked out a plan to counter him, though, and over the next few hours our plan came together perfectly.
“The anthems were brilliant, the All Blacks’ haka was great, the crowd was incredible, and having Madiba there was special.
“We all know how the game unfolded and what happened near the end. Kitch approached me on the Thursday before the final and said I should consider the drop-goal option in the final. So at training I practised kicking drop-goals.
“With the clock winding down in extra time, a back-row move down the blindside involving Rudolf Straeuli, Joost (van der Westhuizen) and Andre Joubert had been called and it was a good one. We had trained it and it was an incredible move, but at the last second I noticed how the All Blacks had lined up and I figured they knew what we were about to do. I saw Graeme Bachop tracking Joost and Andrew Mehrtens had shifted wider than his normal position. There was a hole and I cancelled the move.
“I could not have struck the kick better. It was good from the moment it left my foot. We still had to finish the game and crucially we were able to gather the restart and get down into their territory. We put the pressure right back on them and we defended like hell. The game-plan was superbly worked out and at the end we had them on the ropes.
“The memory that lives with me the longest and that I keep seeing is of the pure joy on Madiba’s face when he hands the trophy to Francois Pienaar. What he did for our country at that time was so special; he united our nation and gave us all hope that we can achieve anything if we stand together.”