Springbok captain Siya Kolisi was left humbled and overawed by the welcome received at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Tuesday evening.
Kolisi and a group of the newly-crowned Rugby World Cup champions were welcomed back to South Africa by thousands of supporters, government officials and a huge media contingent.
A large chunk of the 31 players who did duty in Japan in the last two months arrived on three different flights after close to 40 hours of travel time from Tokyo. Groups of Springbok players and management flew via Sydney, Beijing, Seoul, Doha and Abu Dhabi.
The first groups to arrive – which included World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, final try-scorers Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, as well as Man of the Match Duane Vermeulen – were greeted by massive cheers from thousands of green-and-gold-clad supporters as pandemonium broke out when the Boks exited into the International Arrivals hall.
Kolisi and South Africa’s director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus – whose flight via Sydney was delayed by a few hours – landed later, with supporters patiently waiting for their arrival, and the arrivals hall erupting with thunderous cheers when the Bok captain walked through the doors carrying the Webb Ellis Cup just after 8pm.
They thanked the supporters for coming out in their droves to welcome their heroes back.
‘In Japan, we got a glimpse of the support back home, but this reception is something else – we can’t begin to thank everyone for backing us throughout this journey,’ said Kolisi.
‘We did this for all South Africans – 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. We are tired but grateful, humbled and overawed – thank you!’
Erasmus said the Boks can’t wait to embark on their trophy tour, which kicks off in Gauteng on Thursday. They will also visit Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town on a whirlwind trip stretching over five days.
‘We brought the Webb Ellis Cup home for all South Africans and we really wish we could go everywhere to thank our supporters, but unfortunately logistics and time constraints don’t allow for that to happen this time,’ said Erasmus.
‘I would like to agree with Siya – the support here at the airport today made all the hard work and sacrifices over the last two months worth it. Thank you to everyone who came out to greet us tonight.’
The trophy tour kicks off in Gauteng on Thursday with the Bok bus travelling through parts of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto.
On Friday, the Boks will be in Durban, followed by stops in East London (9 November), Port Elizabeth (10 November) and Cape Town (11 November).