Johannesburg — The sold-out signs will be up on Saturday as 51 000-plus supporters cram into Loftus Versfeld for the first Test between the Springboks and Wales.
It will be a record attendance in this country for a match against the visitors and that statistic alone speaks volumes regarding how much fans have been starved of arguably the most important sporting team in South Africa.
On Saturday, when the gates open at Loftus, supporters can finally feast on the first international rugby open to the public in the country in almost three years. This fact is not lost on the Springboks, who kept the flag flying behind closed doors due to Covid-19 restrictions, including a 2-1 series victory over the British and Irish Lions last year.
Jacques Nienaber’s team aim to win every match, but their ultimate goal is to bring a measure of joy to a citizenry that is under constant siege daily regarding socio-economic and political concerns. The excitement to play in-front of a highly partisan crowd has then been palpable amongst the players this past week.
“All of us are really excited to play at home,” Damian Willemse mused on Wednesday from Fourways, Johannesburg
“For me, it is going to be special as it is my first start for South Africa with fans. As a kid growing up, watching the incoming series, I always wanted to be a part of that.
“It is going to be special,” he reiterated. “There is big excitement and a buzz within the team.”
It was a sentiment shared by Kwagga Smith and the Big Dog, Bongi Mbonambi.
“We play for our supporters,” said Smith.
“If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t be sitting here today. We play for them and they are the ones who fill out the stadiums and that is how we earn our salaries.
“Loftus being sold out will be a massive advantage.
“Last year, against the Lions it was tough. There was no one in the stadiums, so to hear that there will be 100% capacity, it is very exciting and we are looking forward to playing in front of our fans.”
“Loftus is going to have a huge atmosphere this weekend.”
Mbonambi, meanwhile, said: “We usually don’t see where we are as a Springbok team as a pressure moment. It is more a privilege and an honour.
“Pressure in South Africa is more the situation that we are in, the thing we go through as a country – that is pressure … We (the Boks) go out there to make ourselves proud, our families proud and obviously to do the nation proud as well.”
Kick-off on Saturday is at 5pm. The Gautrain will be running services for supporters to Loftus via train and their buses, starting at 11am. The final bus from Loftus will depart for the nearest train station at 8pm on matchday.