Springboks share how a common goal and camaraderie clinched them a fourth Rugby World Cup title

The rain poured down on a freezing cold Tuesday morning in Johannesburg. Despite that, if you were inside OR Tambo International, you might have mistaken the airport for the inside of a volcano on the brink of erupting.

However, it was the complete opposite. Instead of the scene being a precursor to impending disaster, it was a melting pot of passion to welcome home the 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC) champions – the Springboks.

South Africans from all walks of life filed into the airport, in spite of the inclement weather, to show the four-time world champions their love and appreciation. 

Springboks arrive home

Captain Siya Kolisi lifts the Webb Ellis trophy at OR Tambo International Airport following the Springboks’ arrival home on Tuesday, 31 October 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Despite having flown for hours following the final in Paris – where they dug deep to edge New Zealand 12-11 – the RWC champions still had enough energy to hoist the trophy up for the doting fans. Unleashing raucous raptures each time a player lifted it.

All this to the sounds of Mandoza’s Nkalakatha, which has since been christened as the unofficial anthem of the team. As well as the official team anthem, Mgarimbe’s Sister Bokkina.

Captain Siya Kolisi, his voice, hoarse from singing IGwijo – spoke about the importance of the win for the team, for the country, as well as for future generations. 

“People were hopeful in 2019. Saying ‘maybe we will win it.’ But this time we could feel that people expected us to win this World Cup. It showed from the support and videos,” Kolisi told journalists at a press briefing at the airport.

Siya Kolisi and coach Jacques Nienaber duirng a media briefing at OR Tambo International Airport, 31 October 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Kolisi also explained that after winning their first World Cup as a group four years ago, the players were content with the achievement. However, the resounding belief and buy-in from South Africans instilled hunger in the team to do the double and become the most decorated nation of all time in the men’s RWC.

“We always play for South Africans. But we wanted to make sure that this one is for the people of South Africa. Rich or poor. It does not matter,” Kolisi said.

“Even though we come from different walks of life, we had a coaching staff that knew how to align us as a group, who knows how to put us together so we can all focus on one thing,” the captain said.

“Even though I have my own goals. I’m playing for different reasons to what Eben [Etzebeth] is playing for. Or Cheslin [Kolbe] is playing for. But the common goal was the Springboks and the people of South Africa.”

There were plenty of eyebrows raised when the Springbok coaches opted for a 7-1 bench split in the final against New Zealand. Head coach Jacques Nienaber shared that because of the camaraderie which exists within the group, there were never any sour grapes when the coaches made their final selections.

Siya Kolisi holding the trophy at OR Tambo International Airport, 31 October 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

One of the players that lost out because of how the brains trust set up their tactics for the battle against the All Blacks was flyhalf Manie Libbok. Nienaber said even though Libbok was deeply disappointed about his omission, just like the players who were on the fringes during the tournament – he took it on the chin and was rooting for his teammates.

“Moving from assistant coach to head coach, that’s the worst part of the job. Telling players that they are not selected,” Nienaber told journalists. 

“I can’t say definitely. It will be the next coach that will decide that. But I believe he [Libbok] has the ability to be the future. He’s been excellent. Him and Damian Willemse, since Handré [Pollard] got injured in 2022,” he said.

“The biggest reason why we’re successful is because all 33 players [are capable]. Even though we can only select 23 to play.”

Then there were those agonising images of Kolbe hiding his head in his shirt as the clock wound down following his yellow card in the final minutes of the match. Just what was happening in his mind at the time?

“Getting the yellow card was disappointing. You feel like you’ve dropped the whole team. You’ve dropped the whole country [at such a crucial time] in the final … But God did it for us and I’m grateful to be sitting here, representing the country,” Kolbe said.

As for the question as to whether the team will defend their title for a third time in a row, superstar lock Eben Etzebeth had one word, an emphatic “Yes”. DM  


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