The new supercharged energy within South African rugby was in full flow at Vodacom SuperHero Sunday.
A near 50,000-strong crowd at the FNB Stadium carried the momentum of last year’s Rugby World Cup triumph and cheered wildly for their real-life superheroes.
With an array of world champion Springboks among the Vodacom Super Rugby quartet of the Vodacom Bulls, DHL Stormers, Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions, Soweto basked in what has become South African rugby’s most anticipated family event, with the Marvel superhero collaboration and an array of match-day entertainment that has reenergised the local game.
The teams rose to the occasion and produced some exhilarating rugby, with the Stormers beating the Sharks 21-19 and then the Vodacom Bulls edging the Lions 40-35 in their traditional derby.
And it was all played against the backdrop of another carnival atmosphere for South African rugby.
‘I loved the vibe and atmosphere,’ said Lions eighthman Hacjivah Dayimani, who arrived dressed in a full Spider Man outfit and sat in the stands supporting his Lions teammates.
‘This is awesome for rugby. After winning the Rugby World Cup, this is a game changer for us in the way it’s bringing everyone together in Soweto to support rugby.’
One of those Rugby World Cup stars, Schalk Brits, thoroughly enjoyed being able to just soak up the atmosphere following his retirement from rugby. He also took part in the charity Cyclathon on the side of the field in aid of CHOC [the Childhood Cancer Foundation], and with other sports stars and celebrities who also cycled to raise awareness for the real superheroes battling cancer every day of their lives.
‘It’s an unbelievable day because Vodacom makes it possible for everybody to get behind South African rugby,’ said Brits. ‘You’ve got the kids and their parents all dressed up as superheroes, and it’s just beautiful to see people supporting rugby.’
Football stars Mark Fish and Brian Baloyi were just as enthused with what they witnessed as they also took part in the CHOC Cyclathon.
‘I think this is phenomenal,’ said Fish. ‘All sports events should be seen as a family outing, and here you see even grandparents coming out with their grandchildren. That’s what sport does. It brings people together. And it was awesome to cycle for a good cause and support CHOC.’
Baloyi said he felt a similar euphoria about rugby as when he watched the Rugby World Cup Final.
‘What better way to start the year than being here and watching almost half of the Springbok team from that Rugby World Cup play,’ said Baloyi.
‘Rugby has gone through the roof in this country and it proves that sport unites people. The crowd here in Soweto was so diverse and all of them were united by sport.’
Rugby fan Wayne Lategan, who won tickets to watch the action from the Vodacom SuperHero Family Suite, epitomised the great family experience this has become.
‘It’s awesome. It was my son Blake’s birthday on Vodacom SuperHero Sunday, so it was just great to share it as a family.’
Even the coaches and players soaked up the atmosphere of a day that has become synonymous with the start of Vodacom Super Rugby in South Africa.
‘I must commend Vodacom. It was a great day for South African rugby. It was great value for the spectators and it’s such a great initiative,’ said Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen.
Elton Jantjies said he felt united with all of South African rugby at this event.
‘There is a good vibe in South African rugby at the moment,’ said Jantjies. ‘We’re all in this together and we’re all part of South African rugby, so an event like this is very positive. It was quite special to be part of this.’
Vodacom Bulls coach Pote Human described it as the perfect start for all four South African franchises as they seek to build on the momentum the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup triumph has created for the country.
‘Everyone is excited and everybody wants to play well after the Rugby World Cup,’ said Human. ‘The eyes of the rugby world are now on our four franchises to see what we can do in Vodacom Super Rugby, and we’re excited and we’ll work hard.’
If the eyes of the rugby world were indeed on Soweto on Sunday, they would’ve seen a country united in its passion for this game.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images