South Africa’s 1995 World Cup-winning captain Francois Pienaar has hailed the Springboks’ latest global triumph as bigger than 24 years ago.
Pienaar receiving the Webb Ellis Trophy from Nelson Mandela – who wore a replica of Pienaar’s green number six shirt – at Ellis Park, Johannesburg is one of sport’s most powerful images.
And Pienaar watched in Yokohama on Saturday as Siya Kolisi, the Springboks’ first black captain, held rugby union’s greatest prize aloft.
The 32-12 victory over World Cup final opponents England proved another unforgettable occasion in South African history.
“This is bigger,” said Pienaar, speaking to reporters at the World Rugby awards night in Tokyo.
“This is bigger because it is a transformed team, 58million people watching in South Africa yesterday morning, and all races would have woken up wearing green, which wouldn’t have happened in my time.
“It has evolved from my time. We had an incredible moment with Mr Mandela, but just the support from the nation for this team and captain.
“Seeing South Africa in the final, Siya Kolisi, the first black captain of South African rugby in his 50th game, his dad flying for the first time in his life to watch his son play. Wow. You don’t get more emotion than that.
“And then I see my number and the (South African) president wearing the number, which Mr Mandela wore, and I know that Cyril (Ramaphosa) was very close to Mandela.
“It’s more than rugby in most countries, but in South Africa we are tender. Our country needs to rebuild.
“To rebuild you need to unite, and sport comes along and shows you that.
“Rugby, in particular, caters for all talents – strong guys up front, tall guys, speedy guys. They play together and it makes them a successful team, and that is a beautiful story for life and for a country.
“Everybody needs to work together if you want to be successful. As a country, to be world champion, you all need to work together.”
Former Springboks wing Bryan Habana, who helped South Africa achieve World Cup glory in 2007, paid tribute to Kolisi.
Habana said: “It’s an amazing achievement. All the credit and plaudits coming his way are well deserved.
“I told people the whole week of Siya growing up. He had some support, but he didn’t have great role models. He was sometimes worried about where his next meal was coming from.
“He just wanted to get through some nights knowing that he could go to school and get a jam sandwich that would see him through the day.
“Knowing Siya a little bit more personally than the average person and being part of his journey, it has been absolutely fantastic. He deserves everything that comes his way.”
South Africa’s triumph in Japan means they will face the 2021 British and Irish Lions as world champions – and Pienaar cannot wait for that three-Test series.
“It’s going to be massive,” he said.
“I think the British and Irish Lions is the most romantic story in sport, and I think the politicians can learn, the Brexiteers can learn about how the Lions when they come together, how things can work.
“It’s all about love. It really is. These people come together and they make friendships for life.
“We are not going to stand back. We will give them a hell of a game when they come to South Africa.”