During Francois Pienaar’s post-match interview after winning the 1995 World Cup, he was asked how it felt being cheered on by 65 thousand jubilant fans in the stadium. Standing next to a beaming Nelson Mandela, the South African captain replied: “We didn’t have 65 thousand fans, we had 43 million South Africans cheering us on.”
Pienaar and Madiba lay the foundations
In Pienaar, South Africa had the right man at the right moment to deliver an iconic line that helped unite a country. It’s worth remembering that in 1995, South Africa’s hard-earned democracy was only a year old and there was a worrying sense of uncertainty in the air of what the future might hold.
However, the sight of Nelson Mandela in a Springbok shirt and Pienaar’s inclusive tone during the trophy presentation did more for nation-building than anything had up until that stage.
Now, 28 years after that historic moment, South Africa are hunting another World Cup trophy. As the favourites in the latest 2023 World Cup odds at a price of 13/5, the chances of success are real.
The Boks will become the most successful nation in Rugby World Cup history if they are able to go all the way in France. While that has a nice ring to it, the truth is that this is a country that needs the distraction of a World Cup triumph like never before.
In short, it is no longer 43 million South Africans but rather 60 million in 2023 who will turn their eyes to the Springboks in the expectation that the country’s rugby team can provide a flicker of hope during increasingly unsettled times in the Rainbow Nation.
The Springboks carry a nation
The Springboks have always been aware of the responsibility they carry on the field but that sense of accountability has been heightened ever since Rassie Erasmus became the national coach. It was Erasmus who led South Africa to 2019 World Cup glory after the Boks beat England in the final in Yokohama. Following the tournament in Japan, Erasmus took up the role of director of rugby and by doing so, was able to continue to grow the nation-building ethos he cares so deeply about.
At the core of the 50-year-old’s mission statement as the head of Springboks is a responsibility to the people of South Africa. Erasmus famously asked his players before the 2019 final to play for the people who are going through the same trials and tribulations that they did before they made it professionally.
This is why you will often hear inspiring Springbok captain Siya Kolisi saying that he represents everyone in the townships with a dream of changing South Africa. Kolisi grew up in a poor rural township in Port Elizabeth called iBhayi.
A team that represents the whole of South Africa
To that end, this Springbok squad is made up of people from all walks of life – people who understand the reality of what life is like on the ground in South Africa and use this insight to drive them on to greater heights on the field.
With such purpose fueling the Springboks ever since 1995, it is no wonder that they stand on the brink of becoming the most successful nation in Rugby World Cup history. This institution plays for deeper rewards.