While Canada has played New Zealand in four of the last five Rugby World Cups, the Canadians have faced South Africa only once in the quadrennial tournament, in a game still known as the Battle of Boet Eramus, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 1995.
They also faced each other in a June tour match in 2000, the Springboks winning 51-18.
Today (7:45 a.m NT, TSN) at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, the Canadians and South Africans will do battle for just the third time in their respective rugby histories.Two Newfoundlanders will be in Canada’s lineup today, with Ciaran Hearn of Conception Bay South and Patrick Parfrey of St. John’s named as starters against the Springboks.
The June 3, 1995 game at Boet Erasmus Stadium lives somewhat in infamy because of a full-on brawl which led to multiple suspensions on both teams, including one to Newfoundlander Rod Snow.
It also opened the door for the South Africans to call up Chester Williams, the winger who went on to capture the imagination of a country that was trying to unify itself after four decades of racist rule.
The South Africans went on to win the tournament and Williams’ role as the lone player of colour on the team is now legendary. Even non-rugby fans may know the story through the 1995 film Invictus, which profiled the efforts of president Nelson Mandela to unify his country behind the national rugby team.
South Africa have long been a rugby power. After the end of apartheid, global rugby’s leadership saw an obvious chance to have their sport play a role in helping South Africa move into a new era; they also, of course, saw a chance to hit a home run in terms of fan interest.
Canada came into the 1995 tournament as the eighth-seeded team, having impressed everyone in their run to the quarter-finals in the 1991 tournament. But, former captain Gareth Rees notes, they were only seeded because in ’91, the South Africans were still banned from international sport because of the country’s racist governance.
“We were a good group,” Rees, who is in Japan as Canada’s media manager, said of his team.
“I think our ball-in-play numbers at the time was the record for the tournament,” he added, referring to the amount of time there was actually on-going game action, as opposed to when the clock was ticking down while the teams took their time before putting the ball into the scrum or throwing it into a lineout.
Instead of kicking their penalties to touch to set up lineouts, as teams usually do, the Canadians would hoist high kicks and chase them down, hoping to put pressure on the opposition, who weren’t programmed to expect such an unconventional approach.
“We had to find our own way of getting it done and that was something we recognized,” Rees said. “Let’s use our athleticism, it was as simple as that.”
The unorthodox style of play frustrated the South Africans. Add in the fact that the South Africans were known to be a dirty team, while the Canadians were hard, uncompromising tacklers, an outburst of violence was perhaps inevitable.
With the home team leading 20-0 in the second half, young Canadian winger Winston Stanley, who would go on to have a fine career, got involved with South African winger Pieter Hendriks in a tussle. Canadian fullback Scott Stewart came flying in to defend his teammate and the brawl was on. The encounters included Snow, Canada’s prop, squaring off with 6-5, 250-pound South African lock Hannes Strydom, who ended up with a cut over his eye.
After restoring order, Irish referee David McHugh ejected Snow, South African hooker James Dalton and, to his own surprise, Rees.
Rees thought McHugh had called him over as the team’s representative, so the look of shock on his face still stands out to this day.
Tournament officials would later suspend Dalton and Snow, plus Stewart and Hendriks, for their roles in the fracas, opening the door for Williams, recovered from a pre-tournament hamstring injury, to be restored to the South African lineup for the quarter finals.
Ironically, Snow would stay on in Port Elizabeth to play for the Eastern Province Elephants in the Currie Cup, South Africa’s top rugby tournament. That marked the first professional contract for Snow, who would really make his mark as a pro in Wales, where he went the following year.
Today’s match will almost certainly have none of the same fireworks as 24 years ago. The South Africans are bound for the quarter-finals and there are plenty of faces in their lineup who are looking to impress and thereby force their way into consideration for the hoped-for march to the final, while the Canadians, who are starting very close to their first-choice lineup, are just hoping to survive before taking on Namibia in their final match this coming weekend.
With files from The Telegram