From The Vaults

14 June 2021
Rugby World Cup Bolters!

There were three Rugby World Cup tournaments held in the years before rugby went fully professional in the summer of 1995 and there was at least one player in each of the cup winning sides who could be said to have owed their selection to being in the right place at the right time. This is not in any way to belittle their qualities as rugby players, but their good fortune was to be in the selectorial mix for their country in that one specific season when the opportunity arose for them.

South Africa v France, 17/06/1995, Durban (Photo Credit: Shaun Botterill/ALLSPORT)

The prop John Drake was born in January 1959 and first represented Auckland in 1981. After playing in France for three years, he was summoned to Argentina to join the All Blacks touring party in 1985 and he played in one match between the two tests, a convincing 56-6 victory over Mar del Plata. He did not play against Australia in the three-match series in 1986, but he was chosen for the tour of France in the autumn in which he played five matches including his first caps in the two test matches, the All Black victory in Toulouse and the heavy defeat in Nantes.

In 1987, the year of the first World Cup, he was one of 14 Auckland players chosen in the All Black squad and he was the first-choice tight head prop for all the tests except the opening match against Italy when he was replaced by the Waikato forward Richard Loe. As the All Blacks powered their way through the tournament, Drake played an increasingly influential role in anchoring the scrum. He scored his only test try in the semi-final 49-6 rout of Wales before appearing in the Final against France where the defeat at Nantes the previous year was well and truly avenged.

Drake would make one more appearance for the All Blacks against the Wallabies a month after the tournament ended before retiring from international rugby at the end of the 1987 season with eight test caps, all within one year, and twelve All Black appearances to his credit. He became a businessman and a respected rugby commentator before his untimely death at the age of 49 in 2009.

Four years later, one of the form teams going into the 1991 World Cup was Australia. Their team encompassed veterans of the 1984 UK Grand Slam side - scrum half and captain Nick Farr-Jones, fly half Michael Lynagh, the wing forward Simon Poidevin and the mercurial genius of David Campese - alongside three young players who would form the bedrock of the successful 1999 World Cup side - centres Tim Horan and Jason Little and their captain John Eales.

The Wallabies selected a team with just three new caps for the warm-up tests against Wales and England, both convincingly beaten, and the two-test drawn series against the All Blacks. The new full back, Marty Roebuck, would prove a dependable last line of defence in 23 tests over the next three years, including all the matches in 1991. The young tyro in the second row, John Eales, would go on to have a stellar career in which he won 86 caps, captained Australia in 55 tests and played in three world cups.

The third new cap on the wing against Wales had a test career that lasted only four months but included all nine matches played by the Wallabies in 1991. Rob Egerton was born in 1963 and studied at Sydney University and Oxford University where he appeared in two varsity matches at full back against Cambridge in 1987 and 1988. On his return to Australia, he played for New South Wales and made a try-scoring debut for his country against Wales in July 1991. He scored a second try in the 1st test against Australia and retained his place throughout the World Cup but scored no further tries and was never selected again after appearing in the final. A teacher and rugby coach, he remains the only World Cup winner to have had such a short career at the highest level, but it did include a World Cup winners' medal.

In 1995 the South Africans hosted their first World Cup. Their team had been forged over the preceding two years after the Springboks were re-admitted to the official international calendar and there was only one new cap in the starting line-up for the warm-up match against Western Samoa.

(L-R) Wallabies team manager Rob Egerton, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans and Waratahs team manager Chris Webb look on during a Waratahs Super Rugby training session, 06/02/2012, Sydney (Photo Credit: Matt King/Getty Images)

The Transvaal hooker, Chris Rossouw, was aged 25 and had only appeared four times for his province. A surprise choice for the Samoan match, his play in which he scored a debut try secured him the role of understudy for the tournament to the abrasive hooker, James Dalton. He was not expected to feature heavily and he was unsurprisingly relegated to the substitutes' bench for the opening world cup match against Australia. He won his second cap in the next match against Romania and then watched from the bench as his rival James Dalton was sent off in a pugnacious match against Canada in which three players were sent off and a second Springbok, winger Pieter Hendriks, was suspended along with Dalton for the remainder of the tournament.

Rossouw was now the first-choice hooker for the Springboks and he grabbed his opportunity with both hands. He played every minute of the final three matches of the tournament, scored a try against Western Samoa in the match in which Chester Williams scored four tries, and was a key member of the front row that held firm in the rain against France in Durban and the epic victory in extra-time over the All Blacks in the Final at Ellis Park in front of President Nelson Mandela.

This was not the end of Rossouw's international career, but he did not play for the Springboks for four years until recalled in 1999 for four further matches, three as a substitute, his final cap coming against the All Blacks in the third place match at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. His final record of nine tests and two tries may not rank high in the pantheon of Springbok hookers but, when the time came, he was equal to the challenge and fully merits his status as a 1995 world cup winner.


  • BBC Rugby Special - Nigel Starmer-Smith & Ian Robertson (BBC Books 1987)
  • Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby - Chester, McMillan & Palenski (Hodder Moa Beckett 3rd ed 1998)
  • Men in Black - RH Chester & NAC McMillan (Moa Beckett 5th ed 1994)
  • The Official Book of the Rugby World Cup 1991 - Ian Robertson (Stanley Paul & Co 1991)
  • One team, One country - Edward Griffiths (Penguin Books SA 1996)
  • The Wallabies - ML Howell, Lingyu Xie & Bensley Wilkes (GAP Publishing 2000)

About the Author - A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005 and is the co-author of the RFU's 150th anniversary book 'England Rugby 150 Years'.