South Africa are attempting to invoke the spirit of 1995 as they prepare for the task of derailing New Zealand’s bid for history in the 2015 Rugby World Cup semifinals. Ranked No. 1 in the world for the past six years and favorites to become the first country ever to retain the World Cup, even South Africa’s own coach has described the current All Blacks as the greatest team ever ahead of Saturday’s heavyweight matchup at London’s Twickenham Stadium.

It is an ominous challenge for South Africa, especially after they were stunningly upset by Japan in their opening match of the tournament. Seeking to use all the tools in their armory, the Springboks are calling upon the memory of their most famous victory.

In 1995, only a year removed from the election of Nelson Mandela as president following the dismantling of apartheid, South Africa made its grand return to the sporting stage as hosts of the Rugby World Cup. Improbably, and in fairytale fashion, the South African team, despite having only recently returned to international competition after years of enforced isolation, defeated powerhouse New Zealand in the final. Mandela would hand the trophy to captain and white Afrikaner Francois Pienaar in what became the defining image of a new united nation.

The rugby team, long the preserve of white South Africans, was fueled by the new support, and on the morning of the final ran through the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton. Now the 2015 vintage will attempt to replicate that feeling as they seek to upset the All Blacks once again.

“On the morning of the 1995 RWC final, they famously ran in Sandton,” read a statement from South Africa Rugby. “Twenty years later, the world champion Springboks are running again… through the streets of London.”

However, 20 years on, that harmony has been called into question. Only eight of the 31-man South Africa squad for the World Cup are non-white, and the target of having half of the national squad made up by non-white players by 2019 looks a distant prospect. An opposition political party even brought a legal case to try and block the squad from traveling to the United Kingdom to take part in the World Cup over the lack of black players. And Saturday’s semifinal will take place amid huge protests back home in Johannesburg as thousands of black students rally against an increase in tuition fees.

Given the discontent felt by many at the perceived lack of progress visible in the South Africa team since the end of apartheid, it is doubtful that even a repeat victory over New Zealand can have anything like the same unifying quality.

On the field the Springboks have also attracted a barrage of criticism for becoming victims in the biggest upset in rugby history against Japan. But, with a heavy reliance on brute force, South Africa rebounded from that loss to top their Pool. In the quarterfinals, a moment of inspiration provided a late try to beat Wales and book a date with the toughest challenge in world rugby.

Yet if there is one team that New Zealand will respect more than any other it is the Springboks. Like the All Blacks, South Africa are two-time winners of the World Cup and, including that famous occasion in 1995, they have come out on top against New Zealand in two of their three meetings in the competition.

Similar caveats were uttered ahead of New Zealand’s quarterfinal, however, when the side went up against another of their so-called bogey teams, France. Any chance of a surprise, though, was spectacularly extinguished as the All Blacks scored nine tries and ran out emphatic and brilliant 62-13 winners.

As a result, and spurred on by his counterpart’s gushing praise, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has admitted that his toughest task leading into the semifinal is to keep his players’ feet on the ground and be prepared for a South Africa team that will want to “rip our heads off.”

Hansen has been compelled to make just once change to his 15-man starting lineup for the match, with Joe Moody replacing prop Wyatt Crockett. South Africa, which lost captain Jean de Villiers to a tournament-ending injury earlier in the competition, have named the same side that got past Wales.

Team lineups

South Africa

1. Tendai Mtawarira

2. Bismarck du Plessis

3. Frans Malherbe

4. Eben Etzebeth

5. Lood de Jager

6. Francois Louw

7. Schalk Burger

8. Duane Vermeulen

9. Fourie du Preez (captain)

10. Handré Pollard

11. Bryan Habana

12. Damian De Allende

13. Jesse Kriel

14. JP Pietersen

15. Willie le Roux


New Zealand

1. Joe Moody

2. Dane Coles

3. Owen Franks

4. Brodie Retallick

5. Samuel Whitelock

6. Jerome Kaino

7. Richie McCaw (captain)

8. Kieran Read

9. Aaron Smith

10. Daniel Carter

11. Julian Savea

12. Ma’a Nonu

13. Conrad Smith

14. Nehe Milner-Skudder

15. Ben Smith

Start time: 11 a.m. EDT

TV channel: Live coverage via pay-per-view is available by contacting your TV provider. Alternatively, NBC will provide delayed coverage at 2:30 p.m. EDT.

Live stream: The match is available to live stream for the price of $32.95, here.