Hundreds of thousands of screaming South Africans greeted their heroes as they danced and sang at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg to welcome the returning Springboks who arrived home with their most valued cargo – the Rugby World Cup.
With star attractions, captain Siya Kolisi, leading the victorious team off the plane, with the Webb Ellis Trophy in hand, the exuberant delight proved overwhelming as the mass crowd – a true reflection of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ that the country is perceived to be – joined in unison to hail the three-times champions.
Following their much-hipped exploits in Japan, people of all varying backgrounds – Black and white, male and female, young, middle aged and old, low-income earners and the wealthy – all stood side-by-side as one mass sea of green to salute their heroes as a carnival atmosphere enveloped the normally sedate international arrivals section of the airport with every Springbok receiving a deafening seal of appreciation.
Francois Pienaar, who captained the memorable Springbok 1995 World Cup winners, hailed the Springboks’ latest World triumph as bigger than then.
“This is bigger because it is a transformed team”, he said. “58million people watching in South Africa and all races woken up wearing green – which wouldn’t have happened in my time.
“It has evolved from my time. We had an incredible moment with Mr Mandela, but just the support from the nation for this team and captain.
“Seeing Siya Kolisi as the the first Black captain of South African rugby – in his 50th game – and with his dad flying for the first time in his life to watch his son play.
“Wow! You don’t get much bigger than that”.
A visibly tired Kolisi said: “We are hugely grateful, humbled and overawed by the support in Japan and here.
“This reception is something else – we couldn’t begin to thank everyone for backing us throughout this journey.
“We did this for all South Africans”, he added. “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”.
Following their first dominant display in the crushing 32-12 victory over pre-match favourites England, in Yokohama, South Africa became the first side to win the Webb Ellis Cup having lost a match in the tournament – they were beaten by New Zealand in the pool stage.
But, their fans – from all backgrounds – couldn’t care a j