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All Blacks vs Springboks, when sports have the power to unite a nation and change the world

Sun Tzu, the Chinese general who lived between the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. and author of one of the most important military strategy treatises of all time, The Art of War, said, "every battle is won before it is fought".

A maxim quoted by Gordon Gekko, the ruthless broker played by Michael Douglas on Wall Street, cult movie of the 1980s depicting the extreme business recklessness of the blooming world of finance directed by Oliver Stone in 1987.

the fearsome haka of the All Blacks, an instrument of terror used by the team in all their games
The same idea is also at the base of the terrifying haka that the All Blacks, the feared members of the New Zealand rugby national team with an all-black uniform (where the nickname comes from), has been performing at the beginning of the match in front of the opposing team since their first tour of 1884 in Australia.

The possessed look of the muscular All Blacks players, who as their name suggests are entirely dressed in black, the screams commanded by their captain, who leads the performance shouting incomprehensible but equally frightening phrases, the gestures coming from an ancient and primordial violence: all this can only insinuate a deep terror in the opponents, hindering any hope of victory.

The invincible All Blacks

However, if the ancient Maori dance remains one of the most recognisable elements of this extraordinary team, and certainly the most spectacular (now so famous to the point of being parodied in an unlikely commercial a few years ago, starring a group of housewives), the All Blacks are also considered the strongest rugby team of all time.
All Blacks touring in 1913, the birth of a myth
Founded in 1892 and active internationally since 1903, the All Blacks have won 447 of the 577 matches played, with a 77% victory rate, thus becoming the most successful international team in the history of rugby, able to inflict heavy defeats, and often their worst debacle, to his opponents.

Rivalry with the South African Springboks

As for any great team, the All Blacks also have a historical arch-nemesis: the South African Springboks. The rivalry began in 1921, when the Springboks' tour in New Zealand, home of the All Blacks, ended with a win and a draw each. However, it went down in history, not just in sports history, more than seventy years later, during the final of the Rugby World Cup, held in South Africa between May and June 1995.

The event took place exactly one year after Nelson Mandela took office as president after 27 years of imprisonment, and one year after the fall of the old apartheid regime.

The All Blacks were the favourites for the final victory, one of the strongest players Jonah Lomu, had impressed by scoring four goals in the semi-finals against England. Lomu, generally considered the world's first true rugby superstar and one of the greatest rugby players of all time, debuted the year before with the national team at the age of 19, becoming the youngest player in the All Blacks and establishing himself as a wing with impressive physical qualities. With a height of 196 centimetres and a weight of 119 kilograms, he was able to run the 100 metres in less than 11 seconds.
Italy - New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup, an unstoppable Jonah Lomu leads the All Blacks to victory
An extraordinary and unlucky athlete, he was forced to interrupt his career at the age of 24 due to a nephrotic syndrome that meant he needed a kidney transplant, which led to his death from cardiac arrest in 2015.

Despite Lomu, however, in 1995, New Zealand, returning from a mysterious food poisoning incident before the match, they lost the final to South Africa.

Springboks' victory against the All Blacks, the rebirth of a nation

The South African victory against the All Blacks proved to be fundamental in the process of integration wanted by Mandela. The Springboks were in fact the symbol of white Afrikaner pride, and because of this, the black population detested them (the team was in fact composed almost entirely of white players), cheering often for the opposing teams.
Pienaar raises the cup of champions after the final with the All Blacks gone down in history
Mandela, who actually liked football more than rugby, understood that a victory for the team at home, especially against the All Blacks, could have been politically important. Therefore, he decided to meet Captain François Pienaar, creating a relationship of mutual respect and affection that eventually led to the unexpected final success: an extraordinary symbol of the rapprochement between whites and blacks, bolstering the process of national reconciliation, fundamental for the future of the country.

Once more, a sporting event crossed its borders to enter the wider realm of history.

The victory in popular media

The victory of the Springboks against the unbeatable All Blacks, for its historical, political and social importance, quickly took popular media by storm, becoming the rugby equivalent of David defeating Goliath. The immediate effects of the victory not only contributed to the process of social reunification in South Africa, but also put the spotlight on world rugby, taking away the prerogative of this sport only to English-speaking countries.

Suddenly, countries that had always been considered minor in the world of rugby understood the unifying power and passion behind this sport, rising from the bottom of the world rankings to challenge the myth of invincibility of the New Zealand’s All Blacks.

It's no coincidence that a book was dedicated to this moment (Love your enemy by John Carlin, published in 2008) from which Clint Eastwood then drew inspiration for Invictus (2009), in which Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon respectively play Nelson Mandela and the captain of the Springboks.

The film culminates in the final match between Springboks and All Blacks and in the celebration of the final victory - the historic moment in which Mandela, the president of Black Africa, presents the title of world champion to the team that symbolized the old pride of White Africa. In this, the American director and his principal interpreter were able to show all their admiration for one of the most important political figures of the twentieth century.

With the classic style with which he created masterpieces such as A Perfect World (1993), Mystic River (2003) or Gran Torino (2008), Eastwood has told how even a rugby match can represent a moment of fundamental political change for the history of a whole people.

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