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HomesportStreets lined with jubilant fans as South Africa honours rugby champions

Streets lined with jubilant fans as South Africa honours rugby champions

PRETORIA : Tens of thousands of jubilant fans lined the streets of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto on Thursday (Nov 2) to catch a glimpse of champions South Africa at the start of a five-city Rugby World Cup trophy tour that will continue until Sunday.

The sight of thousands of adoring supporters in Soweto, South Africa’s largest township, was particularly striking given how rugby was once perceived to be the sport of the white Afrikaner during Apartheid.

But a record four World Cup wins later, including back-to-back triumphs in 2019 and 2023, and it is clear there is a passionate following among South Africans of all races.

The country is struggling with an electricity crisis, economic downturn, high unemployment, crime and corruption, so the Springboks’ 12-11 World Cup final win over New Zealand last week provides a rare chance to celebrate

“You have lifted the spirits of the entire nation and filled us with pride,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told the team at Pretoria’s Union Buildings.

The crowd chanted “Siya! Siya! Siya!” as Springbok captain Siya Kolisi stepped forward to speak. He had a simple message.

“We hope the unity we have seen (in the wake of the World Cup win) continues going forward,” he said.

Screaming fans waited hours for a glimpse of their heroes as the Springboks’ open-top bus slowly made its way through the throng, leaving some players stunned by the turnout.

“It feels very uniting, all these people coming out to see us. It is not our trophy, it is everyone in South Africa’s trophy,” scrumhalf Cobus Reinach said.

“We might be 33 players, but our driving force is the people of South Africa and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

One fan outside Soweto’s Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital could not hide his delight.

“We are very grateful we could get a half-day (off work) to come and celebrate the homecoming of our boys. We are very thankful for Siya Kolisi and the team,” he said.

Kolisi has spoken often of the uniting influence of rugby on South African society and that was in full evidence on Thursday.

If only for the next few days before reality bites once more, it has brought out young and old, rich and poor, in mutual celebration.

The tour continues in Cape Town on Friday, before moving to Durban on Saturday. It culminates in East London on Sunday.

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