Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Urban Legends of the 1995 World Cup

We all expected South Africa to beat England in this year's Rugby World Cup final. In 1995 it was very different. The seemingly impossible victory over the All Blacks united one nation, but it had another one reaching for the book of excuses ...and urban legends.

One of the most bizarre legends to emerge from the 1995 World Cup Final was ...

The tale of the toxic skydivers

Before the climactic match between South Africa and New Zealand kicked off, the crowd was treated to a display of helicopters, skydivers and aircraft flying over Ellis Park.

The most dramatic of these was the Boeing 747 that passed over the stadium just 300 metres from the ground, with the words "Good Luck Bokke" painted under its wings.

But that awe-inspiring sight was taken almost for granted by the urban legend mill. It chose instead the subsequent display by skydivers who, in the oldest tradition of parachuting exhibitions, trailed coloured plumes of smoke from their boots as they came in to land on the Ellis Park turf.

But you see, this was no ordinary smoke: it was a toxic substance designed to be breathed in by the rugby players as they took the field, and which would remain in their systems throughout the game.

What about the Boks' performance, you say? Well, of course, it was a South African plot, so our boys were given the antidote before they left the change rooms.

Lomu and Delilah

Many New Zealanders could not accept the fact that their secret weapon, Jonah Lomu, who had simply walked over the England team in the semi-finals, did not make an impact in the final.

They ignored the fact that the Springboks had chosen, firstly, to tackle him from the outside, where he carried the ball and could not use his powerful arm to shove them away; and, secondly, to refuse to respect his size and tackle him head on instead of waiting for him to run past.

No, that was no explanation: the man's strength was supernatural, and only something unnatural could have stopped him.

The blame fell squarely on a young woman from Bloemfontein, who had met Lomu at a post-match social function during the first round and had become a regular companion. She was no mere passing fancy of Lomu's, went the story issued from the urban legend mill. She was an agent of the South African management, assigned to seduce Lomu. And, like Delilah cutting Samson's hair in the biblical legend of old, she used a woman's ways to sap Lomu of his power on the eve of his greatest battle.

Let's blame the food

In a mark of desperation, the New Zealanders even claimed their food had been poisoned two days before the final. Coach Laurie Mains told Radio New Zealand that two thirds of his squad, including 10 of the 15 players in the starting line-up, began getting sick after lunch at their hotel on the Thursday afternoon.

To quote him:

"It was just an amazing sequence of events and coincidence that, of our 35-man party that ate at that particular lunch venue in the hotel here, about 27 of them went down in the space of 12 hours. You can read what you like into that, but I don't think it was coincidence. We certainly have our suspicions... I don't have any doubt that it left many of them pretty flat and I think that was a significant factor in us just not quite having the urgency and speed in our game."


The chief operations executive of the group that owned the hotel, Helder Pereira, put the story into slightly different perspective:

"We warned against New Zealand players eating outside the hotel and made it known to them that we could not be held accountable. I was very surprised to see the All Blacks and their management going out to eat on what was effectively the eve of the World Cup Final."


The team's media liaison officer later admitted there was no evidence that the players had been deliberately poisoned. But, in New Zealand, the urban legend has lived on for more than a decade.


2 comments:

Josh said...

Well, it was worth reading, but I must say that the stuff that happens lately in the soccer world cup are much weirder!

football news

Dog said...

Even if they were not poisoned the squad was sick.

Here is a quote from the head of security for the All Blacks (also the former head of security for Nelson Mandela.

"We raced back to the hotel and when I got up to the doctor's room it looked like a battle zone – like a scene from a war movie. Players were lying all over the place and the doctor and physio were walking around injecting them. I was a police officer, I worked with facts. What my eyes told me that night was that the team had deliberately been poisoned."

and

"I had to endure accusations of complicity in this, from New Zealand officials, and I was very angry that this was allowed to happen in my country – to people in my care. South African rugby fans remained skeptical of this theory and preferred to put it down to sour Kiwi grapes. To my fellow South Africans I want to say this: Stop all those cheap jokes about Suzie, the food poisoning and whingeing Kiwis. It happened. There is no doubt that the All Blacks were poisoned two days before the final."

-Rory Steyn

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