New Zealand versus South Africa is one of the biggest rivalries in rugby. We delve back in the annals of time for some background on the upcoming RWC semi

By Adam Hathaway

England and Wales have got history, England and most sides in the world have got history, in fact, but when it comes to rugby rivalry, nothing is tastier than South Africa against New Zealand. South African sides are measured by success in World Cups and success against the All Blacks.

Against all Test nations New Zealand have a win percentage of just over 78 but against the Springboks that dips to just 60 per cent. The men in green are not scared the Kiwis and have beaten them on more occasions than any other team.

If the New Zealanders expect to be waved through in the second half like they were in Cardiff by the disappointing French last weekend they have got another thing coming.

To the Boks – World Cup semi-final, or no World Cup semi-final – this matters. Big time. This lot have got history.

Preparing for battle: South Africa's Morne Steyn and back row Willem Alberts attend a team training session. Photo: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Preparing for battle: South Africa’s Morne Steyn and Willem Alberts attend a team training session


Hence the debate of who was the greatest South African team of all time that still rages. The World Cup-winning teams of 1995 and 2007 or the 2009 vintage, which beat the British & Irish Lions and held every trophy they could possibly get their hands on. All have their supporters but some Springbok fans go all misty-eyed when the names of the 1937 Boks, captained by Flip Nel, the 1949 team, led by Felix ‘du Plessis and the 1976 team skippered by Morne du Plessis, come up in conversation and the common thread is they all beat New Zealand.

That is how much the fixture means to South Africans.

Leading by example: Former South Africa Captain Morne Du Plessis. Photo: Getty Images

Leading by example: Former South Africa Captain Morne Du Plessis


Nick Mallett’s squad that won 17 Tests on the spin in 1997 and 1998 – including home and away wins over the Kiwis – also gets a mention.

But the 1937 side that contained legendary names such as Danie Craven, Boy Louw, Ebbo Bastard and Gerry Brand is always in the frame. In a highly unscientific poll of, mostly South African, journalists earlier this year, the 1995 team got the most votes but the 1937 side came a close second and it was all because they beat the All Blacks.

In 1949 South Africa overcame New Zealand 4-0 at home and in 1976 they won the series, also at home, 3-1.

Best South African team? Players of the South African Rugby World Cup winning team of 1995 pose for re enactement of the team picture on the 20th anniversary of the winning match on June 24, 2015 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Photo: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Best Bok team ever?: Players from the RWC winning team of 1995 pose for a team picture on the 20th anniversary of their win over the All Blacks

In 1937 the Boks actually travelled to New Zealand and won the series 2-1, after beating Australia 2-0 on the way. They lost the first Test in Wellington, and won the second and third games in Christchurch and Auckland to become the first, and last, South African team to go to the home of the All Blacks and win a series. On the trip they won 27 out of 29 matches with their only reverses coming against New South Wales and in the first All Black Test. That was a proper tour.

Nel, a prop, was 35 by then and knew he had nothing left in the game to achieve to he announced his retirement by throwing his boots into the sea from the boat on the way home.

Influential figure: South African medical doctor, anti-apartheid campaigner and rugby player Louis Babrow. Photo: Getty Images

Influential figure: SA medical doctor, anti-apartheid campaigner and player Louis Babrow


In that team Craven rated Brand as the best full-back he had ever seen. The centre Louis Babrow who scored twice in the final Test, was a doctor and anti-apartheid campaigner who would win a Military Cross El Alamein and Craven himself would go on to become South Africa’s most influential rugby figure. Teams in Pretoria still compete for the Lucas Strachan Shield, named after the Transvaal flanker on that trip, there is an Ebbo Bastard Trophy in Natal and Louw refereed the first Currie Cup final in 1939. Harry Martin, a prop, became Chief of Defence Staff in South Africa and the flanker Flappie Lochner was the manager of the Boks on their 1971 trip to Australia which sparked a host of anti-apartheid demonstrations. These blokes were all significant figures and they could play a bit too.

On Saturday, the All Blacks stand in the way of South Africa and a place in a third World Cup final. If the 2015 Boks get through two matches, they will be spoken of in the same terms as Nel’s mob and the fact they would have beaten New Zealand on the way would make it all the sweeter.