At this stage, you could well be overcome with Mandela fatigue and the endless tributes paid to the great man since he passed last week. Well, it's probably a good idea to get used to it because Nelson Mandela's image and legacy will live on for eternity. Saintly and venerated, Mandela puts the capital "I" in icon. I have a friend who was involved in a business venture that exposed him to some of the biggest celebrities in the world on a daily basis. But he claimed meeting Mandela was like no other experience. He had a rapturous aura that left you spellbound. It was this same aura that Mandela used to basically change both South Africa and the world and the same aura he used to help perpetuate his theory that sports could be a unifying force for good and for change. Anyone who has watched the Clint Eastwood movie Invictus is aware of how Mandela used one of the most polarising forces in apartheid South Africa, the Springboks national rugby team, to help him build a new, modern nation on the back of the country hosting the 1995 World Cup. Of course if you are a rugby fan, you didn't need a Hollywood movie to tell you about it and these days much has been made of the debt Mandela and South Africa owe to rugby. While there is some truth to that, far more prominent it would seem is the debt rugby owes to Mandela. Coming into the 1995 World Cup, rugby was a sport very much looking to grow its profile globally. The first World Cup had been held only eight years earlier and while the event may have lacked history, among the rugby community it quickly became what you set your calendar around. When the first event was contested in 1987 in New Zealand and Australia, there were 16 nations competing. At the time, you could basically count the number of places where it was a "Drop everything you are doing, it's time to watch the match" event. Obviously there was Australia, New Zealand, all of Britain and Ireland, South Africa and parts of France and Argentina. For the rest of the sporting world the event was largely a great mystery, if not completely off the radar. South Africa, where the game was huge among the ruling white minority, was not allowed to compete in either the first or second World Cup because of apartheid sanctions. By 1995, apartheid had officially been dismantled and South Africa was ready to welcome the world. For many of us rugby neophytes growing up in countries where the game had no inherent culture, 1995 was a seminal moment and an awakening. Quite often to take a sport to alien climes you need either a transcendent event or performer to catapult it forward. Thanks to Mandela and New Zealand's rampaging Jonah Lomu, the 1995 World Cup had both. Lomu had made his official debut on the world stage one year earlier at the Hong Kong Sevens. Blessed with dominating size and blistering speed, he was a captivating force the likes of which the game had rarely if ever seen. But how his skills would translate to the more plodding 15-a-side game was a big question mark. History is often written long after the fact but there are still a few times in one's life when you grasp the enormity of the situation in front of you and May 25, 1995 in Cape Town was one of those. When Mandela officially helped open the tournament with South Africa playing Australia, the eyes of the world were squarely on this event and a moment rich in symbolism and history. The Springboks had long been a symbol of apartheid. Blue eyed, blond bo-hunks representing the Aryan ideal and the master race, they were reviled by black South Africans, including a young Mandela, who revelled in their losses. But that night the crowd was unified and electric, the scene joyous and the match rich in drama with South Africa coming back to beat the Wallabies. Over the next month, Lomu would run roughshod in leading his All Blacks into a finals match-up against the Springboks that the South Africans would win 15-12. But for me the opening match is deeply seared in my memory like very few other games in a lifetime of watching sports. Today the rugby World Cup is truly a global event and rugby sevens will be making its debut as an Olympic sport in 2016. And I am not saying that the growth of the sport is largely because of Mandela. But I am not saying it isn't, either.