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In all the fanfare and celebration surrounding the Springboks in the aftermath of their Rugby World Cup victory, what might have been missed was a nonchalant comment from coach Rassie Erasmus when he was asked how he turned a losing team into champions of the world. He said he planned to have the team together for 20 weeks for the World Cup tournament itself. Week One was the early arrival in Japan. Winning the World Cup was Week 19. So why did the team have to be together for 20 weeks? According to Rassie’s plan, Week 20 was the week for the celebrations. That’s how meticulous and confident he was. That’s how audacious he was. Right from the start, he factored in the need for the players to be together to celebrate with the rest of the country. It was never about if the Springboks won, it was always a case of when. And so we come to Week 20, which has started with rugby fever reaching heights not even seen in 1995. Thousands sang and danced for hours at OR Tambo International as the players arrived in two groups, with Siya Kolisi and Rassie Erasmus, mobbed by security and screaming fans, having finally brought the trophy home. Most of the players looked the worse for wear due to a long flight and possibly due to much deserved celebration on board the plane. Makazole Mapimpi dropped a legendary F-bomb during his first news conference alongside Minister Nathi Mthethwa who could only look embarrassed as the journalists roared with laughter. No one was going to reprimand the young man who scored a try in a World Cup final, who has scored 14 tries in 14 Tests, who was playing social rugby five years earlier, whose story of poverty and lack of opportunity will inspire countless youngsters who come from a world where privilege does not exist. The political figures on the left and right of the spectrum have been rendered ineffectual by the spontaneous outpouring of massive celebration by South Africans who stand together in the name of sport. The momentum is often all too fleeting, but there is the glaring realisation that the nation can be #StrongerTogether. – David O’Sullivan
“Humbled and over-awed” – that was the reaction of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi when the newly-crowned Rugby World Cup champions were welcomed back to South Africa by thousands of supporters, government officials and a huge media contingent at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Tuesday evening.
A big chunk of the 31 players that did duty in Japan in the last two months arrived on three different flights after close to 40 hours of travel time from Tokyo around 17h00 on Tuesday afternoon. Groups of Springbok players and management flew via Sydney, Beijing, Seoul, Doha and Abu Dhabi.
The first groups to arrive – which included World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, RWC final try-scorers Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, as well as RWC final man of the match Duane Vermeulen – were greeted by massive cheers from thousands of green and gold clad supporters as pandemonium broke out when the Boks exited into the International Arrivals hall.
Kolisi and South Africa’s Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus – whose flight via Sydney was delayed by a few hours – landed a few hours later, with supporters patiently waiting for their arrival, and the arrivals hall erupting with thunderous cheers when the Bok captain walked through the doors carrying the Webb Ellis Cup just after 20h00.
They thanked the supporters for coming out in their droves to welcome their heroes back.
“In Japan, we got a glimpse of the support back home, but this reception is something else – we can’t begin to thank everyone for backing us throughout this journey,” said Kolisi.
“We did this for all South Africans – ordinary people who work tirelessly all day long to care for their families and friends and ultimately make our wonderful country an even better place.
“Winning the World Cup on foreign soil was very special – and arriving home to this wonderful support is the cherry on top. We are tired but grateful, humbled and over-awed – thank you!”
Erasmus said the Boks can’t wait to embark on their trophy tour, which kicks off in Gauteng on Thursday. They will also visit Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town on a whirlwind tour stretching over five days.
“We brought the Webb Ellis Cup home for all South Africans and we really wish we could go everywhere to thank our supporters, but unfortunately logistics and time constraints doesn’t allow for that to happen this time,” said Erasmus.
“I would like to agree with Siya – the support here at the airport today made all the hard work and sacrifices over the last two months worth it. Thank you to everyone who came out to greet us tonight.”
Mr Mark Alexander, President of SA Rugby, paid tribute to the Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok squad for their amazing feat in Japan, as well as all of South Africa for supporting the men in green and gold as they reached rugby’s ultimate summit.
Mr Alexander congratulated Rassie Erasmus, director of rugby, Bok captain Siya Kolisi and the rest of the squad and management for winning the Rugby World Cup.
“What Rassie, Siya and our team achieved in Japan is truly exceptional,” said Mr Alexander. “To see thousands of South Africans take hands, sing, dance and rejoice at their achievement yesterday, warmed my heart and gave me hope for our wonderfully diverse country. Thank you Rassie and the Boks, for lifting our spirits in the last two months. We really are stronger, together.”
Mr Alexander also thanked the players for their role in the Springboks’ success.
“A few years ago, we were languishing low down on the world rankings, but we are number one now – for the first time in 10 years – and walked away with an armful of accolades at the recent World Rugby Awards. To Siya, Handré and your team-mates, thank you.
“Our two electric try-scorers in the final, Cheslin and Makazole; our World Rugby Player of the Year, Pieter-Steph; Man of the Match in the final, Duane; all other squad members; Jesse and Trevor, who had to return home from Japan; their replacements in Damian and Thomas; and the others who were part of the wider squad but didn’t make the final selection to Japan – all of you played a massive role.
“And the Boks’ hard-working team management also deserve praise. Most of them operate far away from the public eye, but they poured every ounce of energy into this campaign and helped to make it a success.”
Mr Alexander said there was much to look forward to in the next few years in South African rugby, with the game at a positive point in its history, but that hard work awaits to ensure we remain consistent.
“It’s exciting times for rugby in our country – in two years’ time we welcome the British & Irish Lions to South Africa in what will be a typically tough and uncompromising series, and in 2022 we’re hosting the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town,” he said.
“Next year, our Blitzboks will aim to emulate the Springboks achievement in Tokyo at the Olympic Games and in 2021 the Springbok Women will play in the Rugby World Cup; the SA Schools and Junior Bok teams are creating a pathway to the top for our elite young players; we have an exciting new Vodacom Super Rugby format to look forward to from next year; our teams are starting to find their feet in the Guinness PRO14; and the Currie Cup was as brilliant as ever this year.
“Thank you to our franchises and unions for buying into a bigger plan and the important role they also played in the Boks’ success. The same applies to our staff at SARU House in Cape Town, for putting in many hours of dedicated hard work.”
Mr Alexander added that on-field success would not be possible without the backing from millions of South Africans off the field.
“We really have wonderful supporters, who flock to rugby fields at schools, clubs and big stadiums across the country for most weekends of the year, who supported the Boks from pubs, shebeens, taverns, fan parks and living rooms, who came out to the airport yesterday and who will line the streets during our trophy tour in the coming days – a massive thanks to all of you, as you make all the effort worth our while,” he said.
“None of this would have been possible without the support of our family of sponsors, many of whom put their trust in us when times were tough and friends were few. Thank you for believing in SA Rugby and your amazing backing.
“Also to our media corps, who help spread the message of rugby to our fellow countrymen and women, your work has not gone by unnoticed.
“And lastly, but certainly not least – to our President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, our Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Mr Nathi Mthethwa, and government, thank you for your unwavering support, not only in the last two months in Japan, but especially in the last few years. We are truly grateful.”
The Springboks’ RWC Trophy Tour kicks off in Gauteng on Thursday when they will travel through parts of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto, parading the Webb Ellis Cup from an open-top bus. The route plans for Durban (8 Nov), East London (9 Nov), Port Elizabeth (10 Nov) and Cape Town (11 Nov) will be communicated in due course.
The route plan for Gauteng is as follows:
- 08h30 to 09h30: Union Building South Lawns
- 09h30: Parade starts in an easterly direction down Stanza Bopape Street
- Right into End Street
- Right into Pretorius Street in a westerly direction
- Left into Gordon Street (which becomes Jan Shoba Street)
- Right into Burnett Street
- Left into Park Street
- Left into Kirkness Street, past Loftus Versfeld
- Right into Jorissen Street (becomes Kotze Street, A Reyeng route into Nana Sita)
- Right into Paul Kruger Street and around Church Square
- Right into Madiba Street
- 10h30 to 11h00 Stop at Tshwane House and then depart to Johannesburg
Johannesburg and Soweto:
- 14h00: Parade starts at 1 Jan Smuts Avenue in Braamfontein to Metro Centre and across the Nelson Mandela Bridge
- Onto FNB Bank City in Simmonds Street
- Onto Nasrec Road past Riverley and to the FNB Stadium
- South to Ben Naude Street
- Left into Immink Road
- Right into Chris Hani Street past Maponya Mall
- Right into Klipspruit Valley Road
- Left into Kumalo Main Road and left into Vilakazi Street and onto the Hector Pieterson Memorial
- From approximately 15h45 to 16h15: past Orlando Stadium
Sources: https://springboks.rugby/en/articles/2019/11/05/Boks-humbled-upon-arrival; https://springboks.rugby/en/articles/2019/11/06/Thank-you-South-Africa; https://springboks.rugby/en/articles/2019/11/05/Trophy-Tour-Gauteng-Route
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