Springbok captains Francois Pienaar and John Smit discuss the impact Nelson Mandela had on the 1995 World Cup

Last Updated: 06/02/13 5:42pm

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Sporting Heroes Preview - Francois Pienaar

Former South African captains Francois Pienaar and John Smit feature on this week's Sporting Heroes.

Join Pienaar and Smit as they discuss how they led their nation to global glory at the 1995 and 2007 World Cup campaigns, respectively.

In 1995, South Africa hosted their first major sporting event following the end of apartheid. The wounds of apartheid would take a long time to heal and many saw the Springboks as a team to cheer against rather than for.

"That Madiba dust was there and we realised as the tournament progressed was that it was much more than just a rugby tournament."
Francois Pienaar

A year earlier Mandela was the first South African president to be elected in the country's first democratic elections. Pienaar was dreaming of lifting the Webb Ellis trophy, but Mandela had a much bigger dream.

"He understood the power of sport and he was brave enough to embrace that power," explained Pienaar on Sporting Heroes.

"I guess because he was also a sportsman and knew what you had to go through in order to become successful. He was a boxer and very disciplined in his training. Even when he was being hunted by the police he still got up at 5am and run on the spot for two hours - that is almost incomprehensible.

"As a leader he embraced sport as a changer, I don't think in his mind even he could believe how powerful it could be - I certainly didn't.

"What Madiba did was he got the whole nation to start supporting the team. That Madiba dust was there and we realised as the tournament progressed was that it was much more than just a rugby tournament."

Despite the tournament being held on home soil, South Africa were far from favourites to lift the trophy. Defending champions Australia were in fine form while New Zealand were about to unleash Jonah Lomu onto the world.

However, a superb opening win against the Wallabies got the Bok momentum rolling. They beat Western Samoa in the quarter-finals and squeaked past France in the semis to set up a mouth-watering final against New Zealand. A packed Ellis Park roared their approval as Mandela walked out to greet the teams in a replica of Pienaar's No.6 Springbok jersey.

The game went to extra time and it was Joel Stransky's winning drop goal that sealed the victory. As Mandela handed Pienaar the trophy, he said "thank you very much for what you've done for South Africa" and Pienaar replied, "no sir, thank you for what you've done".

"We were going into this tournament as rank outsiders but we knew we had a chance to do it," added Pienaar.

"In our minds we had this very myopic focus; it was all about one thing and that was winning. We trained very hard making sure we ticked the boxes and went from one phase to another. What he did only really dawned on me after the World Cup - I knew it was there; it was tangible and you could feel the energy of Africa and the people.

"But it was a World Cup and we had to focus and be really clear on what we wanted to achieve - if you start thinking about all the other things then you will lose."

Watch Sporting Heroes on Wednesday at 10pm on Sky Sports 1 HD.

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