The 1995 World Cup-winning squad enjoyed a luncheon in London on Thursday ahead of the Springboks’ semi-final against the All Blacks, and apparently they metaphorically raised their glasses to the Golden Lions team that will aim to complete a rare unbeaten campaign when they take on Western Province in the Currie Cup final at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The 1995 Springbok squad was, of course, predominantly made up of Lions (or Transvaal as they were then known) players, but it was Natal who won the Currie Cup that year and in 1996, when they went through the season unbeaten, the last team to do so.
Lock Mark Andrews was a pivotal figure and he said the main similarity between the Natal Sharks of 1996 and the Lions of today was their ability to create and sustain momentum.
“We were just talking about it at our ’95 World Cup lunch today,” Andrews told The Citizen on Thursday, “about how we spent a fair amount of time as forwards on ball-handling drills, but you have to have momentum on the field to use those, because that’s what gives you more time and space. You can’t really use those skills if you’re under pressure because then you’re always struggling to clear the ball away.
“Our Natal coach Ian McIntosh instituted a game plan based on momentum, the forwards getting over the gain-line and having good ball-skills and an ability to link with the backs, and I’m also impressed with the way the Lions can create momentum and sustain it. They do it by keeping ball-in-hand and they’ve shown that you can win games doing that, even from their own 22.
“In general, South African teams try and kick from their own 22 and put pressure on the opposition in their own territory and try and win penalties. The Lions have shown a different skill-set, it’s a refreshing approach for a South African team, much like we had an innovative strategy back in 1996,” Andrews said.
One big difference though between now and 1996 is that the Currie Cup doesn’t feature the leading Springboks anymore.
“All the provinces had all their Springboks back then, but you still have to give the Lions credit for their consistency. You need some luck too, but it comes down to preparation and belief in your structures. You need some kicks to go over as well to win the tight games, but if you are consistently getting over the gain-line and making your tackles, then you are very hard to beat,” Andrews added.
Natal went through 14 consecutive Currie Cup matches unbeaten in 1996 and beat Transvaal 33-15 in the final at Ellis Park, leading rugby writer John Bishop of The Natal Witness describing it as a display of “devastating brilliance”.