Faf de Klerk says the Springboks did not expect the number of fans who turned out to welcome the team home from their World Cup triumph.
Tens of thousands of South Africans took time out to celebrate the achievement as the Springboks embarked on a five-day trophy tour which took the team from Johannesburg to Cape Town, and included stops in East London and KwaZulu-Natal.
De Klerk, who has returned to Manchester to resume service with the Sale Sharks, told the BBC in a long-ranging interview that the Boks were left pleasantly surprised by the sheer volume of people who packed the streets for hours just to get a glimpse of the team.
‘We did not expect that,’ De Klerk admitted. ‘We expected a few, but not thousands. It was just so special. We felt bad just running through the crowds at the airport with police because we wanted to stop and greet everyone, but it’s just impossible and we would never have got out of there.
‘It was just insane. We obviously didn’t get a sense of the support at home when we were in Japan. It felt like the whole country was out to support us that day, just to see a few guys on top of a bus waving at them. It was insane. I never expected it.’
There has been plenty of debate over whether the World Cup could inspire change in the wider South African community.
De Klerk said that while he has his doubts, he is hopeful more chances can be given to players from underprivileged communities to make their mark on the rugby scene.
‘I really hope it does – but being ultra-critical, it probably won’t,’ De Klerk said. ‘But what I know is that there are people in the right positions now, especially on the rugby side. With coach Rassie [Erasmus] going [back] to director of rugby, he made us a promise that he’ll make sure that things will move forward for the better.
‘They are going to put a lot more work into developing rugby and giving opportunities to people who are not that privileged. The popularity of rugby definitely grew in South Africa over the World Cup, and sport has great power, so hopefully it will make some difference. Even if it’s just 1%, it’s a bit of a change.’
Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA