The Springboks would do well to invoke the memory of legends passed as they get set to begin their World Cup journey, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It felt somewhat surreal when news broke on Friday that 1995 World Cup-winning legend Chester Williams had passed away. Less than two months prior, the death of another iconic former Bok, James Small, had already rocked the world rugby community.
And, on Friday, they again went into mourning as tributes from far-flung corners of the globe and throughout South Africa came pouring in.
Poignantly, there were more than a few who mused that there was quite a rugby team that could be fielded in heaven. Just think of Williams joining Small, Jonah Lomu, Joost van der Westhuizen, Ruben Kruger and the list goes on.
In our upcoming World Cup bumper issue of SA Rugby magazine, which will be on sale next week, it was interesting to hear the thoughts of former Springbok captain Morne du Plessis, who managed the team in 1995.
In describing some of the key ingredients for success at such a tournament, he made mention of an underlying factor such as emotion and the need to find a ‘magic moment’ to inspire the team.
Of course, in 1995, the Boks were deeply inspired by the words of late great former President Nelson Mandela, who so wholeheartedly supported the side just after the country’s historic democratic elections.
In fact, it’s Williams who had often referenced the influence of Mandela, telling the story of how captain Francois Pienaar admitted that there was nothing more to say after a rousing speech from the iconic struggle hero on the eve of the final against the All Blacks.
On that day back in 1995, sport transcended any on-field significance and inspired a nation.
More than two decades later, the game of rugby and the country itself is in a very different space, but there are no shortage of challenges that remain.
What cannot be denied is the fact that the Springbok players of today are still all too aware of their power to uplift South Africans and provide an escape from daily troubles.
It’s also very clear that this generation of players are socially aware of their influence and responsibilities. Just this past Friday, Bok wing Makazole Mapimpi celebrated his tries in a World Cup warm-up game against Japan by revealing a wrist strapping that read ‘Nene RIP’.
It was a meaningful gesture in dedication to Uyinene Mrwetyana, who was brutally murdered in Cape Town recently in an incident that also shaped last week’s emotional movement calling for change in the way women and children are treated in this country.
Next weekend, the Boks will kick off their World Cup campaign in a highly anticipated clash with the All Blacks, and you can rest assured that they will be donning black armbands in honour of Williams.
As the Springboks prepare for that match and take the field in Japan, you can rest assured that there will be more than a few who spare a thought for Williams, who inspired so many players as one of the first iconic black Bok players.
Over the next few weeks, there is once again an opportunity for the Springboks to unite a country in distress; to honour the memories of fallen legends and to reinforce the lasting words of Mandela: ‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.’
Photo: EPA/Sebastiao Moreira