In 1992, the Wallabies toured South Africa, putting their reputation as World Champions at stake.
Victory would mean the Wallabies had accomplished everything they could achieve as a top-tier rugby nation. Defeat risked their hard-earned reputation as the world’s best team.
‘There was an enormous amount of pressure, from all sorts of directions,’ Wallaby captain Nick Farr-Jones later told rugby writer Peter Jenkins. ‘And there was this feeling that we knew what the response to our world champion status would be if we did lose.’ (Jenkins: 2004, 24)
‘We had everything to lose and nothing to gain by going there,’ Michael Lynagh later said. ‘As the recognised top side in the world, we were putting everything on the line in a one-off Test.’ (Slack: 1995, 242)
Simon Poidevin said it best on commentary before the commencement of the Test.
‘The challenge facing Australia is not to become World Champions, but to remain World Champions.’
Prior to the match the Wallabies spoke about channelling ‘the spirit of Dublin. That referred to the Australian team producing a performance comparable to that of their first half against New Zealand the year before in Dublin.
They did just that in the second half when they produced one of the greatest performances history.
Such was the Wallabies’ dominance in this match that Welsh rugby correspondent Stephen Jones would later nominate the 1992 Wallabies as the finest rugby union team Australia ever produced. (Derriman: 2001, 192)
‘If I had to put together the greatest rugby match I’ve ever seen I’d have the first half of Australia-versus-New Zealand in ’91 in Dublin and the second half of Australia-versus-Africa in ’92,’ Jones remarked.
‘That was as near as you would ever get to the perfect rugby performance.’ (Derriman: 2001, 192)
Moreover, just as the Wallabies’ first-half performance against the All Blacks during the 1991 Rugby World Cup was capped by two moments of David Campese genius, so too would Australia’s dominance in the second half be completed by two amazing individual moments produced by Tim Horan.
15. Jan “Theo” van Rensberg
14. James Small
13. Daniel “Danie” Gerber
12. Pieter Muller
11. Pieter Hendriks
10. Hendrik “Naas” Botha (c)
9. Robert du Preez
8. Johannes “Jannie” Breedt
7. Ian McDonald
6. Wahl Bartmann
5. Adolf Malan
4. Adri Geldenhuys
3. Lodewyk “Lood” Muller
2. Ulrich “Uli” Schmidt
1. Johan Styger
Replacements: 19. Hendrikus Hattingh (65th minute)
Coach: John Williams
There was only one change from the Springbok side that lost to the All Blacks the week prior, with loosehead prop Johan Styger replacing Hein Rodgers.
15. Martin Roebuck
14. Paul Carozza
13. Jason Little
12. Timothy Horan
11. David Campese
10. Michael Lynagh (c)
9. Nicholas Farr-Jones
8. Timothy Gavin
7. David Wilson
6. Viliarne Ofahengaue
5. John Eales
4. Rodney McCall
3. Ewen McKenzie
2. Phillip Kearns
1. Anthony Daly
Coach: Robert Dwyer
This Test was the 47th and last time legendary Wallaby halves duo Nick Farr-Jones and Michael Lynagh played together.
Farr-Jones was set to retire provided the Wallabies won – ‘If we won we would have proved ourselves to be the very best and I’d always thought I wanted to get out right at the top.’ (FitzSimons: 1993, 272).
He was prevailed upon to come out of retirement in 1993, which he did.
However, Lynagh would miss the one-off Bledisloe Cup match in 1993 played at Dunedin and the three-Test series played against South Africa, due to a bacterial infection. (Lynagh and Eglinton: 2015, 109-11)
This Test saw the return of Tim Gavin to the starting side at the expense of Sam Scott-Young.
Gavin received a badly corked thigh during the last ten minutes of Australia’s second Test victory over Scotland in Brisbane during 1992, sidelining him for four weeks.
He missed the 1992 Bledisloe Cup series but returned for the Wallabies’ first provincial match in South Africa against Western Transvaal, during which he scored two tries.
Willie Ofahengaue also returned from injury, taking Troy Coker’s place in the Wallaby team at blindside flanker.
This Test was played in some of the most difficult conditions either side had ever faced. The ground was drenched and very muddy. There was a slight wind blowing and there were occasional bursts of rain.
Prior to kick-off, neither side’s national anthems were sung in accordance with an agreement struck with the ANC.
Wallaby captain Farr-Jones led the Wallabies in singing Advance Australia Fair in the dressing rooms before taking the field. (FitzSimons: 1993, 274)
The week prior at Ellis Park in Johannesburg controversy ensued. Before the start of the Springboks’ match with the All Blacks, the crowd was requested to observe a minute’s silence to commemorate the victims at the Boipatong Massacre.
Instead, midway through the minute’s silence, the crowd began to sing the anthem Die Stem.
Peter FitzSimons once explained by quoting from Bryce Courtenay that Die Stem ‘celebrates the White Tribe and its love of a land it believes it won from the Black Tribes’. (FitzSimons: 1993, 263)
However, this time the minute’s silence was respected and the match commenced without any controversy.
The Wallabies’ first opportunity to score came in the sixth minute after the Springboks were penalised by New Zealand referee David Bishop in the fifth minute for pulling a maul down.
However, Lynagh missed the penalty kick by hooking the ball across the right upright post, failing to register the first points of the match.
Moments later Australia came close to scoring the first try.
Naas Botha received the ball in his own quarter and prepared himself for a clearing kick into touch. However, he slipped while kicking the ball and it ricocheted off Wallaby fullback Marty Roebuck, falling directly into the possession of Tim Horan.
Horan almost had a clear run to the try-line, but some desperate Springbok defence prevented a certain try. A few phases later Willie Ofahengaue knocked the ball on just outside five metres from the South African try-line, and the Springboks were given a reprieve.
However, on a third attempt the Wallabies registered the first points.
After John Eales did well at six in the line-out to secure clean ball for the Australian backs, the ball came loose from a wayward Jason Little pass.
David Wilson did magnificently to recover the ball for the Wallabies and as he was tackled to the ground, Springbok openside flanker Wahl Bartmann was penalised in the ninth minute for not rolling away from the ball.
Michael Lynagh kicked the penalty from about the Springbok quarter line and almost in front of the goals, to give Australia a three-point lead in the 10th minute of the match.
Following this, South Africa had their first opportunity to register points in the match. Australia was penalised in a line-out for lifting Rod McCall in the 11th minute.
Botha lined-up for his penalty kick in the 12th minute – it was 15 metres infield and ten metres inside Australian territory.
On a dry day Botha’s kick would have sailed over, however, the kick fell well short of the goals. Botha’s troubles with place-kicking would continue midway through the first half.
The Springboks were awarded a penalty in the 19th minute. Springbok fullback Theo van Rensberg fielded a Michael Lynagh cross-field kick, and as he chipped the ball through, Jason Little made contact with him after he had kicked the ball.
Botha had one of the easiest (if it’s acceptable to use that word in these windy and muddy conditions!) kicks of the match. It was about 15 metres infield and just outside the Australian quarter line.
The ball sailed past the right upright post for a narrow miss. Botha missed his second penalty in the 20th minute.
In the 28th minute of the Test the Wallabies formed an excellent driving maul in South African territory and Springbok second-rower Adri Geldenhuys was penalised for collapsing it just outside the South African quarter.
Lynagh missed the penalty kick in the 29th minute when he hooked the ball a second time in the exact same manner he missed the first penalty attempt of the match.
Moments later the Springboks levelled the scores.
Naas Botha launched a poor high kick in the 32nd minute of the game that Springbok winger James Small did well to recover. As David Wilson tackled him to the ground, he failed to roll away from the ruck and was penalised.
Botha took the penalty kick just outside the Wallaby quarter and in front of the goals. He kicked the penalty to tie to score at 3-all in the 33rd minute, leaving both Lynagh and Botha one from three.
Australia responded a few minutes later with the only try of the first half.
The Wallabies had the line-out inside South African territory and just outside their quarter. John Eales won the ball before it came to the Australian backs and Horan brought Little back inside on a scissors’ pass to set-up second-phase play.
The Wallabies were then magnificent to shift the play down the blindside.
Nick Farr-Jones passed the ball to Phil Kearns, and as Kearns was confronted by his opposite Uli Schmidt, he offloaded it back to Farr-Jones. This allowed the Wallabies to create an overlap.
Farr-Jones passed the ball to Lynagh and suddenly Australia had a two-on-one with Paul Carozza standing on Lynagh’s outside with only Springbok winger James Small in the first line of defence.
To compensate, Small tried to get between Lynagh and Corozza. However, Lynagh did well to pass the ball around Small’s body to Carozza.
Carozza made a dash toward the try line. Springbok halfback Robert du Preez and loosehead prop Johan Styger probably would have stopped Carozza in cover defence, but for the fact that Carozza was 165cm in height and was able to lower his body and sneak past them.
Carozza scored the Wallabies first try in the corner in the 35th minute to give Australia a five-point lead.
Lynagh conversion attempt from touch in the 37th minute failed to make the distance, keeping the game tally at 8-3.
At halftime, Australia led 8-3.
Australia’s second-half performance contained what was one of the finest displays by a forward pack in Australian rugby union history.
During the 45th minute, an Australian maul drove the Springbok pack backwards, from just outside their own 22 to about five metres from their own try line.
This may have been the best driving maul executed by an Australian side, ever.
Referee Bishop penalised Springbok flanker Ian McDonald for attempting (unsuccessfully) to bring the maul down, however he decided (correctly) to play the advantage to Australia.
Michael Lynagh then executed a chip-kick into the South African in-goal for Tim Horan to run onto.
Referee Bishop deemed that a South African had grounded the ball in-goal. However, because he was playing advantage for the penalty that McDonald gave away, he brought play back to where it was awarded.
At first instance, Lynagh’s decision to execute a chip-kick seemed to be a terrible one. Why not keep the ball in hand?
However, the replay showed Horan was able to squeeze between Uli Schmidt and Naas Botha and ground the ball for an Australian try.
David Bishop was unsighted and in a poor position to see whether Horan had scored the try, and in the absence of video referees, Horan’s try couldn’t be reviewed.
Unfortunately for Australia, not only was Horan’s try disallowed, but Michael Lynagh missed the penalty kick in the 47th minute.
The score remained 8-3 in Australia’s favour.
Tim Horan continued to provide problems for South Africa in the 51st minute when he found space behind Springbok scrumhalf du Preez for a kick and chase.
Horan booted the ball ahead a second time, but it was kicked too far and went dead. However, it was a brilliant piece of play.
A penalty was awarded to Australia following the next Springbok 22-drop-out when John Eales was taken out of the play without the ball in the 52nd minute.
Lynagh again missed the penalty kick, leaving him with one successful goal from six attempts.
Botha grounded the ball in-goal, and from the next Springbok 22-drop-out, Uli Schmidt initiated one of the better South African attacking movements in the game.
John Eales shaped to catch the ball on his chest when Schmidt, like a flash of lightning, appeared from nowhere to sprint onto the ball and catch it running at full pace.
Schmidt was a special front-row forward, with tremendous pace, ball skills, and a side-step as well.
As the game progressed, the Wallabies were penalised in their own territory during the 55th minute following terrific South African defence.
Jason Little was hit by a wonderful tackle from Springbok inside centre Pieter Muller, well behind the advantage line.
David Wilson arrived at the breakdown under pressure and was eventually penalised for playing the ball on the ground.
Botha had a penalty kick from about 35 metres out.
It’s indicative of how difficult the muddy conditions were to play in that Botha’s kick fell well short and wide -left of the goals.
Both Botha and Lynagh, two of the greatest goal-kickers in rugby union history, had been rendered ineffective in their goal-kicking duties by muddy, windy, rainy conditions.
Moments later, South Africa almost scored a try in the 57th minute when Robert du Preez launched a high kick for Wallaby fullback Martty Roebuck to field that Danie Gerber contested.
Gerber cleverly smacked the ball in-field to Uli Schmidt, who had a clear path to score the try. However, the ball was ruled to have been knocked forward.
In the 63rd minute of the Test Lynagh was penalised for hitting Springbok halfback du Preez late after he kicked the ball downfield.
However, once again Botha had a penalty kick about 30 metres out and almost in front of the goals, missing to the left.
Taking Botha’s missed penalty in-goal, David Campese initiated the most exciting counter-attack of the match.
Campese ran the ball from outside Australia’s in-goal and swerved around his opposite winger, Springbok Pieter Hendriks. He then stepped around flanker Ian McDonald and was then confronted by Springbok number eight Jannie Breedt.
David Campese had brought play outside the Australian 22 when he offloaded the ball to Phil Kearns who took the ball into contact.
From the second phase of play Australia attacked from the open side with the Springboks short on numbers.
Jason Little passed the ball to Ofahengaue, and Ofahengaue then found Tim Gavin in support.
Gavin brought the play into South Africa territory – Australia had gone from their in-goal to Springbok territory in two phases.
Unfortunately, Farr-Jones executed a very high pass from the ensuing ruck that David Campese (inserting himself into the first receiver position) knocked on, bringing an end to a very exciting moment in the game.
Shortly after Adri Geldenhuys was forced to leave the field in the 64th minute to be replaced, in the 65th minute, by Drikus Hattingh.
Moments later the Wallabies had possession of the ball.
A penalty advantage was given to Australia. Play continued and Horan executed a high ball that Uli Schmidt fielded on the run almost on the Springbok try-line. Schmidt passed the ball to winger Hendriks, who made a run that took play outside the Springbok quarter.
As Hendriks was tackled by Carozza, Little was first to the breakdown, and a Springbok player penalised for “killing the ball”.
Play was stopped for a moment so referee David Bishop and the touch-judge could discuss something that had happened in the backfield.
Springbok lock Drikus Hattingh (who had only been on the field for about two minutes) was then penalised for throwing a punch, and the Wallabies were given the choice of two places where Michael Lynagh could attempt a penalty goal.
They chose the spot from where Drikus Hattingh threw his punch.
Referee David Bishop could be seen back-patting Hattingh, informing him that such behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated.
Michael Lynagh kicked the penalty in the 70th minute to give Australia the 11-3 lead. This was his second successful goal-kick from seven attempts.
In the final ten minutes of the game, the Springboks began to gather some momentum.
The previous week they had staged a remarkable second half comeback against the All Blacks, only to narrowly lose the game.
They appeared to be gathering the same spirit from the week prior and mounting one final charge against the Wallabies, when one incredible moment completely halted whatever chances South Africa had of winning the Test.
South Africa won a short line-out and Wahl Bartmann drove the ball up the midfield to set-up second phase play.
The ball came to Briggs who was caught by an incredible flying tackle from Phil Kearns. Unfortunately for Kearns, his amazing effort was overshadowed by what happened in the third phase of play.
Taking the ball in broken play, Schmidt ran with ferocious pace and power into contact, when Willie Ofahengaue made what is unquestionably one of the greatest tackles in the history of Australian rugby union history in the 73rd minute of play.
The responses of the Channel Ten commentators – David Fordham, Chris Handy, and Simon Poidevin – said it all.
“It was a bone-jarrer”, called David Fordham.
“Uli Schmidt,” Simon Poidevin said, “Welcome to Tonga!”
‘He never moved one yard or one inch past the advantage [line], Chris,’ David Fordham noted to Chris Handy.
‘[I’m] very mindful of Topo Rodriguez’s tackle on Hika Read as well,’ recalled Chris Handy, ‘That stopped the movement in its tracks.’
Wallaby skipper Nick Farr-Jones would later tell Peter Jenkins that, ‘It [Ofahengaue’s tackle] turned the whole game certainly from a psychological view.’ (Jenkins: 2004, 259)
‘I think it turned the game in our favour,’ Australian coach Bob Dwyer further remarked. ‘When he smashed Schmidt we were only a few points up. But he absolutely pulverized him and Uli was the superstar.’
‘Suddenly 14 of our blokes went “You beauty!” and 15 of theirs went “We’re in trouble here”. And they were.’ (Jenkins: 2004, 260)
‘Willie made that tackle right in front of me,’ Lynagh later recalled. ‘It was one of those hits that really lift your spirit and tends to deflate the opposition.’ (Slack: 1995, 244)
Did Ofahengaue’s famous tackle stop South Africa’s momentum? Only enough for Australia to score 15 points in the last seven minutes of the match.
Following Schmidt’s knock-on, a scrum was awarded to Australia.
From the scrum, the ball came from Farr-Jones to Lynagh, who launched a kick downfield to be fielded by Springbok fullback Theo van Rensberg. He decided to chip the ball ahead when the ball was snaffled by Tim Horan.
What happened then was, given the horrid muddy conditions the teams were playing in, one of the greatest moments of individual brilliance by a Wallaby in history.
The great John Eales would later call it “the most all-encompassing bit of rugby I have ever seen.” (FitzSimons: 2001, 160)
Horan suddenly found open space ahead of him. He ran past a few players, slicing his way through the midfield, before being confronted by Naas Botha. Horan chipped the ball ahead to run onto. With Horan leading van Rensberg in the race for the ball, he then booted the ball ahead off the ground.
The ball bounced up into the hands of Danie Gerber, running backwards and with Horan bearing down on him.
Horan was able to tackle Gerber and sling him to ground. The force of the tackle dislodged Gerber’s possession of the ball.
Horan was then able to reach under Gerber, deprive him of possession of the ball, get to his feet and provide the try-scoring pass for David Campese in the 74th minute.
This was Campese’s 50th Test try, and he became the first rugby player in history to accomplish the milestone.
Lynagh failed to convert Campese’s try in the 76th minute, however, Horan was again magnificent in the 77th minute.
Following a line-out win, Farr-Jones threw a cut-out pass to Horan, and in the wet mud Horan sliced inside the number eight Jannie Breedt and ghosted past Botha to get Australia well over the advantage line.
Moments later, Australia was awarded a five-metre-scrum from the Springbok try-line. The Wallaby backrowers formed a maul that began driving towards the try-line.
However, the Springboks brought the maul down and Australia was awarded a penalty in the 78th minute.
Lynagh kicked the penalty in the 79th minute to give Australia what was then a record lead over the Springboks in the Test.
With little more than one minute remaining in the game, the score was 19-3.
In the dying moments, another excellent play by Tim Horan led to Paul Carozza scoring his second try.
Shortly following Lynagh’s successful penalty kick, Springbok winger James Small was terrifically tackled by Marty Roebuck behind the advantage line.
Horan was magnificent.
He was the first person to arrive at the breakdown. He remained on his feet, stole the ball before anybody else was quick enough to contest it, and handed it off to Wallaby prop Ewen McKenzie.
McKenzie then, running down a very short blindside, had the ball skills to occupy Botha, and pass the ball to Carozza, giving him the tiniest bit of room to work with.
Carozza was immediately confronted by Springbok legend Danie Gerber, so he kicked the ball ahead with Springbok scrumhalf du Preez chasing him.
The muddy surface held the ball up and Carozza was forced to toe the ball forward again, this time off the ground.
He was then able to fall on top of the ball just before the South African try-line and slide over for a try in the 80th minute – the final play of the Test – before Springbok second five-eighth Pieter Muller could tackle him.
The reaction of Muller, as referee David Bishop awarded the try, said it all.
“Oh come on!” he exclaimed!
It was a terrific try scored by Carozza considering the little room he had to work with.
Lynagh was able to convert Carozza’s try after time had expired, making the final score 26 points for Australia to three points to South Africa.
Australia had just inflicted upon South Africa their biggest defeat in over 100 years of Springbok rugby.
Final score: Australia 26 – South Africa 3
|Lynagh penalty||3-0||10th minute|
|Botha penalty||3-3||33rd minute|
|Carozza try||8-3||35th minute|
|Lynagh penalty||11-3||70th minute|
|Campese try||16-3||74th minute|
|Lynagh penalty||19-3||79th minute|
|Carozza try||24-3||80th minute|
|Lynagh conversion||26-3||time expired|
Before mentioning Horan as man of the match, it’s important to understand how incredibly difficult conditions were for both sides to play in.
Both front rows had difficulty securing sure-footing in the scrums because of the muddy ground. Because of this, the Wallabies’ trademark back row moves often weren’t properly executed.
Most possession secured via the line-outs was sloppy ball.
Neither Botha or Lynagh had great games, but who could blame them?
The conditions were so atrocious that both men had difficulty planting one foot on the ground so they could kick the ball with the other.
Lynagh and Botha had problems making the distance for penalties that were 30 metres out.
These two men are as good as any kickers in the history of rugby, so that says much for the wet, muddy, windy, rainy conditions that they played in.
Tim Horan was unquestionably the man of the match, and he produced one of the greatest performances in Australian rugby union history.
This performance vies with his 1999 Rugby World Cup semi-final performance against South Africa as his finest effort in Wallaby colours.
The Wallabies’ forwards truly channelled the spirit of Dublin and Horan stood out as the singular genius in the backline, as Campese had the year before.
Horan will forever be remembered for re-gathering van Rensberg’s kick in the mud, finding his way through the Springbok midfield, kicking the ball ahead and then dispossessing Gerber of the ball, before sending Campese away for his 50th Test try.
Horan’s breakdown work in the 80th minute was also magnificent, when he stayed on his feet and won the ball for the Wallabies, allowing them to then go down the blindside which led to Carozza’s second try.
However, there are other forgotten moments of Horan genius, and these are too many to number.
The Australian forward pack completely covered itself in glory in this Test.
John Eales and Tony Daly were magnificent. It was incredibly difficult for either side to obtain clean line-out possession, but John Eales managed that at crucial times. Australia scored their first penalty and try following line-out wins from Eales at six that gave Australia clean ball. In the conditions the Wallabies played in, that was no small feat.
Tony Daly played a crucial role at line-out time in his sweeper role, because it was so difficult for either side to acquire good possession of the ball. There wasn’t much second- or third-phase possession in this game, so there were many line-outs and scrums, and Daly did excellent in both.
Phil Kearns made a few good hit-ups in second phase possession and an absolutely incredible tackle on Jannie Breedt in the 73rd minute. If not for Ofahengaue’s tackle that followed it, people would still remember Kearns’ tackle.
Willie Ofahengaue made that legendary tackle on Uli Schmidt in the 73rd minute that will be remembered as one of the ten greatest tackles in Australian rugby union history.
Ewen McKenzie made the final pass to Paul Carozza before he scored the try, showing great ball skills for a prop.
However, the jewel in the Australian forwards’ performance will always be that incredible driving maul in the 45th minute.
It was then that you could see a World Champion side begin to cut down the mistakes and begin grinding the Springboks down.
Paul Carozza was the other outstanding Wallaby back in this Test.
The wet muddy conditions were so atrocious that it was nigh impossible for the ball to be transferred to the openside wing.
The only way either Campese or Carozza were going to receive the ball in attack in this Test was through blindside moves, and that’s exactly how Carozza scored his two tries.
He scored two excellent tries in situations where he had very little room to work in. If he wasn’t such a small winger he may not have been able to provide these wonderful finishing touches.
The 1992 Australia rugby union team that toured South Africa are possibly the greatest of all time.
The Wallabies 26-3 victory over the Springboks in Cape Town was South Africa’s then largest defeat in their over 100-year history.
Considering the wet, muddy, windy, and rainy conditions the team played in, this could be regarded as one of the ten best team performances in Australian rugby history.
While Australia won the 1991 Rugby World Cup, many have suggested the Wallabies were a better side in 1992 than 1991.
‘The only regret that I have about the World Cup win is that we didn’t really show the world how good we could be,’ Farr-Jones later recollected. ‘We got it more right in 1992.’ (Jenkins: 2004, 26)
Phil Kearns has uttered similar remarks to Farr-Jones.
‘We were a better side in 1992 and 1993 than we were in 1991.’ (Jenkins: 2004, 177)
If the 1992 Wallabies were better than the 1991 World Cup Champion Wallabies, then possibly they can be regarded as the finest rugby side Australia ever produced!
What is without question is that this was the outstanding Wallaby performance of their 1992 season.
Derriman, Philip. The Rise and Rise of Australian Rugby. ABC Books. 2003.
FitzSimons, Peter. Nick Farr-Jones: The Authorised Biography. Random House Australia. 1993.
FitzSimons, Peter. John Eales: The Biography. ABC Books. 2001.
Jenkins, Peter. The Top 100 Wallabies. Random House Australia. 2004.
Lynagh, Michael, Eglinton, Mark. Blindisded: A rugby great confronts his greatest challenge. HarperCollins. 2015.
Slack, Andrew. Noddy: The Authorised Biography of Michael Lynagh. William Heinemann Australia. 1995.