NWABISA MAKUNGA | Springbok magic a reminder of what Mzansi is capable of with its best foot forward

Springboks are the most feared and revered team in this world cup

South African Trevor Nyakane celebrates with fans after the match between the Springboks and Scotland.
South African Trevor Nyakane celebrates with fans after the match between the Springboks and Scotland.
Image: Reuters/Benoit Tessier

There is something about seeing the South African flag in a foreign country that makes one’s heart skip a bit.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing our national symbol displayed in many parts of the world – across Europe and parts of Asia.

Seeing it last week, however, was incredibly special.

As we drove into the small, seaside town of Toulon on the south of France, our national colours beamed on street poles with the message “Springboks Welcome”.

I then remembered that Toulon is the South African rugby team base for the World Cup tournament.

The closer we got to our hotel on Saturday morning, the more prominent the welcome messages were.

As we drove into the yard, a big South African flag hung in front of the building.  

On the reception desk was a Springbok rugby ball, a mascot and digital screens displaying “Welcome back home SA”.

In that moment, it dawned on me that we were about to spend the next few days in the same hotel as our heroic national team during arguably the peak of their sporting career.

If you haven’t picked it up yet, I am a rugby fan and a massive Springbok one.

Where I come from in the Eastern Cape, rugby is part of the social fabric of our society; it carries the hopes of many young boys who dream of making their mark in the sporting world.

Importantly though, I love the Boks because of what they represent – nationhood, bravery, humility and world class excellence. 

“Guys, this is where the team is staying,” our host tells us during a quick welcome briefing.

In that moment my heart is pounding while I try to keep a semblance of calm and professionalism.

First, popular scrumhalf Faf de Klerk walks by in shorts and flip flops across the road to the beach.

On the patio, with his family, sits Steven Kitshoff, the courageous prop whom SuperSport isiXhosa commentators affectionately call Spicy Plum.

We greet and walk past to grab our seats under the shade, while waiting for our rooms to be ready.

By the poolside on his phone sits bomb squad legend Bongi Mbonambi, who is about to lead the team against Romania on Sunday. 

Sensational youngsters Kurt Lee Arendse and Manie Libbok are joking round with their feet in the water, while a young Nicholas Kolisi is doing back flips shouting at Captain Siya’s wife, Rachel: “Mommy, mommy look what I can do!”

Behind us in the sea, I spot wing Cheslin Kolbe, arguably the fastest man on two legs in the pitch and the last to score a thrilling try which clinched the Webb Ellis trophy for us back in Japan five years ago.

And now here they are, milling around casually while carrying the hopes of a troubled nation on their shoulders.

Can they do it again?

Absolutely, I believe.

If you’d asked me this question two months ago, I probably would have hesitated.

Not only because they were blowing hot and cold during the Rugby Championship earlier this year, but at the time I had not witnessed the hunger they have to bring back rugby’s most precious crown jewel.

Nor had I witnessed first hand the backing they have on the global stage, which traditionally forms part of their winning magic.

On the morning of their opening match on Sunday , I watched them eerr.. prowl around the hotel, some pushing their baby prams, others taking selfies with us, their gigantic selves and warm smiles filling the place with energy, laughter and pride.

“Are you guys taking this thing?” I asked forward Kwagga Smith.

“For you guys, we certainly hope so, but we can only promise tonight is going to be fun,” he said with a naughty grin.

They went on to thrash Scotland 18-3 in a packed Stade Marseille, where the green and gold jersey filled the stands.

As fans back home raged about the teal and white kit – it is hideous by the way – it was interesting to watch how those across the globe were indifferent.

Let’s be clear, the Springboks are the most feared and revered team in this world cup. From rival team fans to security guards, stadium waitresses and club DJs, it felt good to be told “you guys will win this”.

Of course we may not.

Rugby is as exciting as it’s unpredictable and hooker Malcom Marx’s exit from the tournament yesterday is a massive blow for the team.

Still, it felt good to see how strong brand SA is on this global stage.

It felt good to be associated with excellence.

Ours is a deeply, deeply troubled nation.

But last week was an important reminder of what we can be as a nation, if we did not allow mediocre rogues to influence and shape the direction of our beautiful country.

Makunga is Sowetan Editor. She was a guest of MultiChoice at the RWC in France

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