The public reaction to the World Cup victory as well as Rassie Erasmus’ insistence that it’s a springboard to greater things bode well for the sport in South Africa, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Last week in Tokyo, Frans Steyn was asked the standard question: What would a World Cup win do for South African rugby and for the nation as a whole?
The question was put to every coach and player that fronted the media ahead of the final against England. Rassie Erasmus and Siya Kolisi spoke passionately about inspiring the next generation of players. Everyone involved spoke about lifting a country that’s had far more to lament than celebrate in recent years.
Steyn, who at that point was the only World Cup winner in the squad, provided a more informed response regarding the public reaction to such an achievement.
‘It’s going to be big,’ he said. ‘We’re far away from everything right now. We’re here in our little bubble in Japan and we don’t really know about the vibe back home.
‘I think that the boys could be in for a shock when they get back to South Africa, though.’
A week has passed since the Boks beat England 32-12 in Yokohama to win the Webb Ellis Cup. Since then, they’ve moved up to No 1 in the rankings and have claimed World Rugby’s Team of the Year award.
The public reaction to these successes has exceeded all expectations. Even Steyn, who won the World Cup with the Boks in 2007, may have been surprised by the scale of the celebration over the past seven days. ‘Big’ doesn’t begin to describe it.
The party started late on Saturday night when a small group of friends and family joined the coaches and players at the team hotel in Tokyo Bay. While the presence of ‘Bill’ reminded all in the room about the magnitude of the achievement in a rugby sense, the squad was yet to experience what the victory meant to the nation.
On Tuesday afternoon, videos and images of the team’s arrival at OR Tambo Airport flooded social media. The energy and passion of that crowd told a story. That alone gave one reason to hope that what the team achieved in Japan would be acknowledged by the greater South African community.
The celebrations have continued over the course of the week with a trophy tour around the country. Each report or video post has suggested that the Boks have made good on their promise to bring the country together and lift the national mood, albeit for a brief period.
What’s more, it’s been significant to note how the most diverse South African team in history has been received along the trophy tour. This World Cup campaign has been a success story on so many levels.
The campaign, of course, is ongoing. At the start of the 2019 season, Erasmus broke down his plan week by week. Week 18, he said, would have the Boks winning the World Cup final. Week 19, he explained, was reserved for the trophy tour.
The players as well as the fans deserve a lengthy celebration. At the same time, this trophy tour has given Erasmus and Kolisi an extended opportunity to impart an important message regarding the future of the sport.
Erasmus has made it clear on many occasions that he doesn’t want South Africa to wait 12 years between World Cup victories. Since the big win in Yokohama, he has hammered on about the need to build on that success and use it as a ‘springboard’ to even greater feats.
Less than an hour after the final, Erasmus told a packed media conference that the team had 614 days to prepare for the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2021. A few hours after that, he told a clutch of South African journalists about how he intends to keep the momentum of this World Cup win going. Erasmus said that South African rugby can’t afford to make the same mistakes it did post the 1995 and 2007 World Cup victories.
Erasmus has repeated this statement over the course of the trophy tour. His insistence that South African rugby has greater peaks to scale has been massively encouraging as it highlights an unprecedented ambition. Erasmus wants the Boks to be the best in the world for a lengthy period of time – much like the All Blacks were between 2009 and 2019.
The recent victory could well be viewed as a triumph in isolation. No matter what happens, Erasmus, Kolisi and the rest of the group will go down in history as World Cup winners.
However, going by Erasmus and Kolisi’s recent statements, one can’t help but feel that a new age of South Africa rugby has only just begun.
Photo: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images