Captain Siya Kolisi says the Springboks are much more than a team as they prepare for a Rugby Championship first-round showdown with Argentina in Gqeberha on Saturday.
Silence will envelope the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium with no spectators allowed due to an ongoing third wave of the coronavirus, which has claimed close to 76,000 lives nationally.
Apart from the pandemic, looting and arson following the recent jailing of former president Jacob Zuma for shunning a graft inquiry led to 342 deaths.
As South Africans endure unprecedented trauma since historic multiracial elections in 1994 ended decades of apartheid, Kolisi is acutely aware of the role the national rugby team plays.
“The Springboks are much more than a rugby team — those who wear the green and gold offer hope to all the people of our beautiful country in these difficult days,” he says.
“It was cold in Cape Town last Saturday before we met the Lions and yet many people — young and old, male and female, black and white — left the warmth of their homes to cheer us as we drove past.
“You could not help but be touched by this support. I knew then, sitting in the relative luxury of a coach, that I had to lead the Springboks to victory. I am proud that I achieved the goal.
“When the Springboks were a whites-only team in the days of apartheid they divided the nation. Now, as a multiracial team chosen purely on merit, they unite the nation.
“It is hard to express just how much that means to us players. We come from different backgrounds, different religions, different cultures. But when we put on the Springbok jersey, we are one.”
Reporting by Agence France-Presse