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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Captain my captain … The men who have lifted rugby’s ultimate prize – the World Cup

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There have been eight Rugby World Cup-winning captains since the tournament began in 1981 in New Zealand. They come in all shapes and sizes — two scrumhalves, three flanks, two locks and a hooker — but in common is the uniqueness of their individual victories as the World Cup has evolved.

This is what they had to say about what winning meant to their respective teams.

David Kirk (All Blacks, 1987): “We were alive to the historic nature of that first World Cup. There were always arguments over who was the best. We played an outstanding style of rugby, we scored 43 tries and conceded just four. We won big because we were playing a new style of rugby that most teams hadn’t caught up with.”

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Nick Farr-Jones: (Wallabies, 1991): “That’s as good as it gets, playing a grand final against England in London. It was a full house and Twickenham was my favourite ground, so the stars were aligned. I told all the younger players this is why we trained so hard, enjoy the moment. It’s only as you get further from it that you realise how fortunate you were to be in the right place and the right time to captain a World Cup team; when you realise that they only come around every four years, that you understand you’re lucky enough not to die wondering about what could have been.”

Francois Pienaar (Springboks, 1995): “You know there is so much at stake. The tension was unique because you either end that week as a world champion or not. The enduring memory is a feeling of absolute relief. In a rugby world cup final, you don’t care how you do it or who does it, you don’t care about the margin, you just want to be ahead on the scoreboard after 80 minutes. When you look up and see that, and you know nobody can take that from you, it is the most wonderful feeling. It was insane, incredible… Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the impact it would have on our country.”

John Eales (Wallbies, 1999): Straight after we had beaten France in the final, I turned to anyone who was there just to go crazy. And then I realised I was going to get the trophy from the Queen. I was filled with immense satisfaction that we had achieved what we wanted to do. You spend so much time over the previous four years focusing on that moment, never sure that you are going to get to it, so when you actually get there and lift the Cup it is an affirmation that things have gone perfectly.”

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Martin Johnson (England, 2003): “We had thousands of fans follow us to Sydney. I remember us creaking down the hotel stairs before a game and we’d have 3 000 people in the lobby roaring ‘COME ON ENGLAND!’ But that’s what sport’s about: the memories it creates for everyone. To have people telling you that particular day was the greatest of their lives is truly special.”

John Smit (Springboks, 2007): “We had the responsibility of carrying the hopes of a nation on our shoulders, and we were able to take the trophy back home to them. Dreams came true. When you win a World Cup, the significance takes a while to sink in. I am proud of every single one of the guys and there is going to be a lot of stories told as we get older. No-one can take it away from this group of tough men.”

Richie McCaw (All Blacks, 2011): “The learnings of ‘03 and ‘07, the work we’d done in that four years, we realised it would come down to producing the goods when it counted, holding your nerve when it could teeter either way and not freeze. At the final whistle, It’s a great feeling and you just don’t want it to end. I just soaked it all up as I was waiting to receive the Webb Ellis Cup. It’s pretty special to lift the trophy. It’s awesome.”

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Richie McCaw (All Blacks, 2015): “It wasn’t like in 2011 in the final against France when we were hoping for the final whistle. This time (against Australia) it was actually enjoying the last few minutes of playing in a World Cup final which was a contrast to four years earlier.”

Siya Kolisi (Springboks, 2019): “We faced a lot of challenges, but the people of South Africa got behind us, and we are so grateful to them. We have so many problems in our country but with a team like this – we come from different backgrounds and different races – we came together with one goal. We showed that we could pull together if we wanted and achieve something. I have never seen South Africa so happy.”

IOL Sport

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