‘’We are all playing for the Nation,” declared Siya Kolisi in his usual soft-spoken way as the Springboks prepare to take on arch rival, the New Zealand All Blacks, in the Rugby World Cup (RWC) final at the majestic Stade de France, Saint-Denis on the northern outskirts of Paris.
What the nation expects and what the Boks will deliver, we will know on Saturday evening. Pressure? What pressure? Amabokoboko fans (that means the overwhelming majority of South Africans) always set the bar at the highest of levels.
Its a “win-or-die” situation. But then they have been spoilt over the years!
Success, however, begets success and higher expectations. For whoever wins on Saturday will be history makers. The Boks have history making sequenced in their rugby DNA, for post-apartheid rugby is littered with history makers.
Like their iconic Antipodean opponents on Saturday, the Boks have held the Webb Ellis Cup three times before.
Who can forget in the historic 1995 final in Johannesburg when Francois Pienaar’s side, with Madiba resplendent in the green and gold jersey and capped to boot, in attendance, saw off the mighty All Blacks, including the late great powerhouse of a human being Jonah Lomu.
In Paris in 2007, at the very stadium of Saturday’s clash, it was the turn of John Smit’s Boks to triumph against England, and again in 2019 when Siya Kolisi’s team, bomb squad and all – walloped a hapless England side in Yokohama in Japan, making history by becoming the first Black player to lift the William Webb Ellis Cup.
Even in seeming adversity, Amabokoboko made history when they lost to the All Blacks in a first round match in RWC 2019 in Japan, but went on to becoming the first nation to lift the World Cup after losing an opening round match.
Beyond the history of the winner becoming the first nation to win the trophy four times, and if it is South Africa, back-to-back wins, the stakes are much higher than for mere reasons of prestige and bragging rights.
This is particularly so for South African fans and the 62-million-strong nation, endlessly on the receiving end of an entrenched diet of economic doom and gloom, a cost-of-living crisis and the near daily load shedding and power cuts.
Whatever dividends of a potential Boks victory, no matter how short-lived, would be a boon.
Whether a Boks win would deliver redemptive political, social and economic dividends and a “feel good: factor as it did briefly in 2019, only time will tell.
Amabokoboko have already spectacularly delivered in ”successful“ sport transformation, albeit it remains a “work in progress” as long as the inequality gap between blacks, whites and other groups relating to access to gyms, healthy nutrition, affordable kit and transport and accessibility, persists.
How ironic that a sport, still seen by a minority of die-hard ANC and SACP radicals as a “white-man’s sport” venerated by the erstwhile Afrikaner “oppressors”, should generate a sense of national purpose, pride, psyche and promise through national unity.