Ed shares his memories of that famous day with us


Q: Can you run us through what happened that day?

A: Well I had become interested in what was happening in the case of Mandela – I read books on his life, and became fascinated by him.

But what I had never done was link rugby and Mandela. What became apparent quite quickly was how clever and wise he was in the way he brought white and black together in a rainbow nation.

When Mandela came down the incline and onto the field wearing his cap and rugby shirt that day, I realised “this is something a bit different”. It was almost fantasy really.

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What struck me was how small [Mandela] was. But you could not help but feel completely overwhelmed by his stature. His presence was quite extraordinary.

You look back on it and you just think “that was fate”.

Q: How did you feel? Were you nervous about how the crowd would react?

A: Any major sporting occasion is tense. You would not be human if you did not have some ‘fear factor’.

But I remember thinking “I cannot worry too much about Mandela being here, or I will fail.” I had to be a little bit selfish.

The crowd went bonkers. I was gobsmacked – he just smiled knowingly. I remember he had piercing brown eyes. He just looked at me and smiled.

Q: When did you realise you had witnessed a huge moment in history?

A: I’m not sure, but I feel incredibly privileged to have been there. I realised at the time I was in the presence of someone very different – he was unlike anyone I had ever met in my lifetime.

He thanked everyone – it struck me how frail he was, even at that time.

And you would expect a guest at a sporting event to be formally dressed, but there he was in his rugby shirt and cap, just like everyone else.

Q: What do you think will be Mandela’s legacy?

A: There are still massive issues in South Africa, as there are in other countries, but he had a huge influence.

When I left the stadium I saw white faces and black faces celebrating their victory. If you had said to me when I was first refereeing in South Africa that I would one day see that, I would have thought you were on another planet.

He was an extraordinary guy – a one-off.

I just hope South Africa can carry on moving forward. Mandela has given the country a huge opportunity.


Ed Morrison was a referee at international level for 12 years, and adjudicated five matches in South Africa between 1991 and 1999.