Springboks vs the All Blacks – The Great Rivalry
Why is Springboks vs the All Blacks such a big game in sport?
The Springboks (South Africa) and the All Blacks (New Zealand) have been battling against each other for almost a century. The first Springboks vs All Blacks game was in 1921. Every rugby test match played since then has served to strengthen the rivalry and respect between these two proud rugby-playing nations. A Springboks-All Blacks match is widely considered the benchmark of rugby greatness. Whilst the rivalry between them is characterised by gutsy competitiveness, beneath it all lies a mutual respect among every player who wears a black, or a green and gold jersey.
When did the Springboks vs All Blacks rivalry start?
Between 1921 and 2018, the teams subsequently met on another 96 occasions. While the All Blacks hold a favourable win record, with 58 victories in total, just about every clash of these rugby titans yields memorable moments.
The Springboks first played the All Blacks on home soil on 30 June 1928 in Durban. South Africa beat New Zealand 17 – 0.
The inaugural Investec Rugby Championship test (known then as the Tri-Nations) between New Zealand and South Africa was played in Christchurch on 20 July 1996.
Five highlight moments from the modern, post-isolation era:
1. The rivalry resumes
On 15 August 1992, the Springboks took to the field at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, led by the legendary Naas Botha, to officially emerge from 11 years of isolation and resume the rivalry that politics had unceremoniously curtailed.
While the 'Return Test' was a thrilling spectacle, with both sides scoring three tries each, it showed how a lack of international experience had taken its toll on South African rugby. South Africa lost 27-24, this match was a seminal moment in the sport's history.
In a team that included future legends of Springbok rugby like Pieter Hendricks, James Small and Hennie le Roux, the 1992 test match laid the foundation for what would prove to be the Springbok's greatest victory over the All Blacks at the same venue three years later.
2. South Africa wins the World Cup
The 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa captured the attention of the world and on 24 June, culminated in one of the most memorable moments in sporting history.
The hallowed ground of Ellis Park once again played host to a battle of epic proportions. There are many moments from that day that stand out for Springbok fans, from President Nelson Mandela emerging from the tunnel wearing the green and gold, to inimitable Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar hoisting the William Webb Ellis trophy aloft to a rapturous response from an entire nation.
However, the best moment from that memorable day was the Joel Stransky extra-time drop goal that secured South Africa their grand 15-12 win over their greatest rivals, and their first World Cup title.
3. The 1996 series decider
While Springbok fans might disagree based on the outcome, the lost three-test series remains one of the best. The All Black team led by Fitzpatrick secured the series with a nail-biting 33 – 26 win at Loftus Versfeld, following a 23– 19 win in the first game.
Beyond the enthralling series decider, it is a hugely significant moment in rugby history, for two reasons. Firstly, it took 58 years for the All Blacks to achieve that accolade, and it was also the final series between the two nations before the dawn of full professional rugby. While it was technically a dead rubber, the Springboks regained some pride with a 32 – 22 win in the third test.
4. The unforgettable 2009 season
Many rugby pundits would argue that 2009 was the best season in Springbok history. John Smit's men, who were the reigning World Cup champions after their 2007 exploits, beat the All Blacks 3 – 0 to claim the Tri-Nations title. This earned them the honour of becoming the first side ever to beat the All Blacks with a series whitewash.
5. South Africa's 2018 win in Wellington
The Springboks won that Investec Rugby Championship match 36 – 34. It was the team's first win in New Zealand since the epic 2009 series whitewash. Players and commentators alike acknowledged the game's significance, no one more so than Pieter-Steph du Toit.
After the All Blacks took their chances early in the game, the Springbok backline sparked a fightback that the forwards secured with one of the best defensive displays in rugby history. When Damian McKenzie lost the ball mere metres from the try line in the dying minutes, the Springboks secured their historic win, which brought du Toit to tears.
The image of a two metre tall blindside flank with tears streaming down his face epitomises the inherent meaning and emotional intensity behind the Springbok-All Black rivalry, and is one more reason why each match brings out the #bestofthebest in rugby rivalry.