PORT ELIZABETH - Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth sure wasn’t exaggerating when he described the support in Port Elizabeth as “awesome”. Because it really was.
And it wasn’t just the support from a pumping crowd that the Bok skipper praised, it was the passionate support they received during their two-week stay in the city that was very friendly to their Springboks that Etzebeth and the rest of the Boks also appreciated.
That passion and the excitement was everywhere. I saw it as soon as I landed in Port Elizabeth the Sunday before the much-anticipated Test against Argentina, and the closer it got to match day, the more the support was visible.
It was visible in the increasing number of green jerseys I saw all over the city, you just couldn’t miss it. But it was particularly special to witness that excitement and passionate support whenever the Eastern Cape population got to interact with the Boks.
The Springboks had an open training session early in the week. When they came out of the tunnel, the youngsters just couldn’t contain their excitement.
With every Bok who came out, the school kids shouted their names - and they did so with every single player. And whenever one of their Springbok stars ran a great line during the drill or made it to the try line to dot the ball down, the excitement was voiced - loudly.
Last week, coach Allister Coetzee and the rest of the coaching staff presented a coaching clinic for school and club coaches, and the room that the event was moved to, due to rain, was packed.
In that room the passion that the people of the Eastern Cape have for rugby was displayed in a special way - not through loud stadium roars - but by the hunger to learn more about the game.
All of that was great to see, and what made it so deeply significant was that this was happening in the Eastern Cape.
We all know that the Eastern Cape was one of the cradles of black rugby during apartheid. Of course I am part of a generation that never saw Eastern Cape Saru legends like Desmond Booysen, Zola Yeye, Peter Mkata, Makaya Jack and Jumbo Neer, to name just a few.
On Saturday, we had a unified Springbok team, our heroes, representing our country as one, playing in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, coached by Allister Coetzee, a son of the Eastern Cape.
What a beautiful reminder of how far our country has come. When the match kicked off, everything that was so evident throughout Test week was bumped up times 100.
You could hear, see and feel the passion and support with every big hit, with every stunning try, with every call by Romain Poite that didn’t sit well with the vivid crowd.
After the game, Etzebeth said: “A lot of credit must be given to supporters here in PE.
“They created a great vibe, not only today, but also at our open training sessions during the week.
“We really appreciated that. The crowd today was awesome.”
All I can add to that is I hope the PE kids can shout out the names of their Bok heroes again soon.