Siya Kolisi has lead the Springboks with pride. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - For many, the moment of last weekend’s Test match against Australia was Aphiwe Dyantyi’s sensational tackle of Reece Hodge to deny the Australians a try. It demonstrated heart and fight and a determination that wasn’t quite there last season. 

But for my money, the best moment happened far away from the action. It came in the stands as groups of black supporters stood up to chant popular soul song Asambe Lolo . . . siyola’mbedeni, a rousing anthem sung joyously and brilliantly.

It translates as “Come Lolo, let’s go to bed,” which is brilliant, if a little bonkers. The point is that rugby is fast changing. If recent years gave us nothing more than the prosaic Ole! Ole! Ole!, the shift towards rugby embracing all South Africans is teaching us something about each other.

Given our stark differences and our damaging past, it is unlikely that the Springboks will ever be supported by all South Africans, but the change in recent years has been palpable.

To see South Africans of all colours supporting the Boks is encouraging, especially as it comes against a backdrop of cheap politicking and, increasingly, cheap shots. They are an easy target for anyone wanting to crack a lazy headline.

Having been around the Boks in recent days, their attitude in public is magnificent. Years ago, they traded on being moody beasts, recalcitrant players who acted like they had the world on their shoulders. Now they are open, friendly, engaging.

This is the consequence of two things. They are all on-message, thanks to media training, an important faculty in this dynamic (and dangerous) world of social media. One wrong step and someone will be there to video it. Far better to glad-hand and smile.

The other is that coach Rassie Erasmus and captain Siya Kolisi have cultivated a genuinely happy camp. The unity and enjoyment are palpable as the players backslap and tease one another. In between the hard stuff, they are obviously having fun. What makes it authentic is knowing that they do so even away from the public glare.

The team also has a deep sense of their place in the public arena. In Port Elizabeth, they exhausted themselves going from one event to the other. Autographs and selfies were endless. No-one was turned away. It was the same in Joburg and Pretoria this week. The team goes out of their way to reflect an openness and the warm response of fans is their reward. People adore them.

The Boks pick up on this mood too, so when you hear someone like Kolisi talk about playing for the country, you know that he is being sincere. There is a deep desire not to disappoint, notwithstanding the reality that sport doesn’t always produce the fairy tale we yearn for. It remains something of a mystery why big swathes of South African fans still openly support the All Blacks.

Our tangled history explains why this support took hold years ago, but for it to remain even as the Boks make a fundamental sociological and cultural shift with a proud, dignified captain like Kolisi beggars belief.

Increasingly, the Bok team taking shape is one that reflects the country we live in. I dare you to listen out for Asambe Lolo . . . siyola’mbedeni and not be moved. Change is here, and it’s good.

Sunday Tribune

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