Meads: Dodgy milk wrecked 1995 World Cup hopes

Colin Meads has laid the blame for the food poisoning which ruined the All Blacks' 1995 Rugby World Cup campaign on milk.

Meads, who was the manager of the side, has lifted the lid on his beliefs following news that a star-studded cast is set to headline a big-budget movie on the Springboks' historic win on home soil.

The movie is set to be directed by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood.

It will be titled Play The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Made A Nation.

Morgan Freeman will play South African president Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon has been linked with the role of Springbok World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar.

The All Blacks lost 15-12 in heart-breaking fashion, with Springbok first-five Joel Stransky kicking the match-winning dropped goal in extra time.

The fact the All Blacks even stayed in the match at Johannesburg's Ellis Park till so late was a miracle, with the majority of the side succumbing to severe food poisoning 48 hours from the final.

It has since led to a series of conspiracy theories, including that either chili sauce, tea, chicken burgers or prawns served to the team were poisoned by a waitress known as 'Suzie'.

But Meads laid the blame squarely at tainted milk.

"I put it down to the milk, that was my call," Meads told Yahoo!Xtra.

"I had a big night the night before. The South African Rugby Union was shouting all the managers.

"And being Colin Meads, I thought I had to hold up my end and out-do all the other managers. Those were the ones that were out of the tournament but left there (in South Africa) still.

"And we had a big night out on the Wednesday night.

"I was feeling not too fit the next day. And often when you are feeling like that you have a couple of glasses of milk that puts you right.

"So at lunchtime I had a couple of these big glasses of milk. And I reckon that is what did us, it was in the milk.

"That is my theory. But no-one else believes me."

When asked for his thoughts on the Suzie theory, Meads said: "Well, you just don't know.

"Suzie is just a fictitious person as far as I was concerned. I don't think anyone was called Suzie."

The evidence didn't lie

Meads said he was in no doubt that the team's hopes of winning a second Rugby World Cup were wrecked by the mass outbreak of food poisoning.

Of the five successive World Cups the side has failed in since 1987, the 1995 tournament in South Africa was the All Blacks' best shot at victory.

No team has dominated a tournament in the lead-up to the final as that Laurie Mains-coached team did.

"There was obviously something terribly wrong with the team," Meads said.

"We were definitely (affected), whether it was poison or bad luck.

"There was definitely something in the food. Four of the boys, who shall be nameless, didn't have a meal at lunch-time.

"They snuck away and might have had something else, like Kentucky Fried Chicken, and none of those four got crook.

"So it was something in the drink or food.

"There were 36 of us in the tour party altogether. And out of the 36, I think 30 or 31 went down or were sick at some time.

"I myself was crook and I don't normally get very crook.

"The Thursday I went down ate and at about 3am, got the doctor, got out of bed, got to the toilet and crouched on the floor. It knocked me around."

The first All Black fans back home knew of the debilitating food poisoning which had ripped through the team was during coverage of the final.

As the match wore on All Black stars started succumbing to the illness.

Haunting images were broadcast of star wing Jeff Wilson buckled over on the sideline vomiting after being replaced.

Meads said in hindsight the decision to keep things quiet was the wrong one to make.

"It was my call," he said.

"We had a meeting on the Friday morning in my room and I said, 'We don't tell anyone. Tell the players not to tell anyone back home'.

"We didn't want anyone to know we were crook. We didn't want South Africa knowing that we were crook.

"And that is one that I regret. We should have let people know."

Painful memories last more than a decade on

Thirteen years on and the nature of the All Blacks' downfall in South Africa is still a painful one for Meads to recall.

The fact that the Springboks' eventual triumph helped bring some much-needed joy to the divided nation is minor solace for those involved in the All Black campaign.

Time has healed some wounds.

But Meads said memories of what happened behind closed doors in the All Black camp will forever stay with him.

"It was devastating for the players," he said.

"Some were worse than others, it affected everyone different. Some got over it, some were still doubtful whether they were going to be playing."

More pain was to follow at the official after-match function.

"We arrived there and I made sure we all went in our tuxedo suits and had a hell of a fight with the players, some of them weren't going to wear them," Meads said.

"We were late getting there by say quarter of an hour, 20 minutes. But bloody hell we waited there for a good hour and a half, two hours before the Springboks shacked up."

Then the All Blacks had to endure a speech from then South African rugby supremo Louis Luyt where he labelled the New Zealand media boorish.

He then said the Springboks would have won the previous two World Cups, including the 1987 tournament the All Blacks won, had they been allowed to play.

"Players were coming up asking me, 'Can I go and talk to that prick?'. I wasn't in the right mood and said, 'Yeah, go for it'.

"As a manager I shouldn't have (said that). Two or three of them went and spoke of him and told him what they thought of him."

Icon is set to relive that day at the movies

Meads said he would definitely attend Play The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game that Made A nation on its release in New Zealand.

The movie is set to go into production in early 2009.

Freeman has previously said playing Mandela would be the movie role of his life.

And while what happened in the days leading up to and those on the day of the World Cup final loss on June 24, 1995 were agonising, Meads said they were still special to have been a part of.

"It was very emotional," he said.

"For him (Mandela) to go down there in the Springbok jersey, in the same number as the captain, was outstanding.

"It did a tremendous amount to the people that were at that stadium.

"Then there was a fly-past with a huge plane, which must have broken every aviation rule in the world, and it really was an emotional thing.

"Everyone was ducking thinking the bloody thing was going to crash into the stadium."

Meads has had close links with South African rugby through his times as a player, team official and administrator.

He toured South Africa twice as a player.

In 1986 he was manager of the rebel Cavaliers tour to the republic, a country banned from official rugby competition due to the racist Apartheid regime.

Then in 1995 he experienced the beginnings of the 'Rainbow Nation', saying Mandela's role could not be over-stated.

"As a sporting occasion, I think it united the nation more than anything else," he said.

"As one that had been there before in the other regime, the blacks used to always barrack for the All Blacks. But there was none of that this time, it was all South Africa.

"And Mandela brought that about."