There are some things that never fail to remind me how much I love South Africa. The Springbok send off for the Rugby World Cup is one of those things. It’s a little bit cheesy, but if you want to see “stronger together” in action, you just needed to take a look at the 5000 people who descended on OR Tambo to bid their beloved team farewell on Saturday. Do other countries make as big of a fuss of their departing teams? I don’t know, but if they don’t, they should. Or maybe it wouldn’t be the same elsewhere. We have a special relationship with our team here in SA.
We’re still a little under a month out from the World Cup, but you could feel the excitement in the air as people waited to see the Boks emerge (reminder to 2027 me – even though this event always takes place in winter, you DO need sunblock). For me, the send off means it’s really time to start the countdown – as if I haven’t been counting down since I booked my tickets in April 2021! And no matter our differences, if there’s one thing that brings South Africans together, it’s our love of the Springboks, and our eagerness to wish them well as they set off, in this case to defend their title. And yes, we do believe they can win again. We’re not naïve enough to think it will be easy, or blinded by patriotism into thinking defeat is impossible – we know it will be even tougher than it was in 2019. But we still believe. Because that’s what the Springboks bring us. Hope.
There’s been a lot of speculation since the squad was announced. Some of it fuelled by disappointment and disbelief, as players we trust to make magic have been excluded by injury. And some of it fuelled by people who don’t necessarily love the Boks and the coaching team as much as we do, and who think Rassie Erasmus is some kind of pantomime villain, looking to pull a fast one on the rest of the rugby world. So much so that Jacques Nienaber was compelled to speak out in an attempt to quell those conspiracy theories. Even if he hadn’t, it’s time to pull ourselves towards ourselves, and think logically about the way Rassie and Jacques have treated the players since they took over in 2018. With kindness and transparency at every turn. They would never hand a player a place in the squad as part of some elaborate plan to hold space for other players. But no matter what you believe on that front, the 33 incredible players (and they are all incredible) that were named on Tuesday are the players who will make up our World Cup squad. Let’s have their backs unreservedly, as they prepare to represent us unreservedly.
Credit to Karus, who asked Siya to take this photo when my phone had died.
There were so many beautiful moments on Saturday. Strangers of all races and backgrounds singing and dancing together in the sunshine, as they waited for the Springboks. People young and old completely overjoyed to get that autograph, or that selfie with Makazole or André or Canan. PJ Powers bringing tears to many eyes as she sang World in Union. But the moment that will probably stay with me the longest was when Siya Kolisi was addressing the crowd, talking about the diversity within the team, and how every South African is represented by the players in that squad. He said, “We carry your stories with us.”
So, as they carry our stories, and our hopes for victory, to France with them, let’s carry theirs, by showing them our unwavering support. It seems like the least we can do.