Springboks / 31 August 2019, 10:20am / Sameer Naik
The Springbok team at the Rugby World Cup official send-off at OR Tambo International Airport yesterday. Photo: Karen Sandison African News Agency/(ANA)
The Springboks were given a rousing send-off yesterday as they departed for Japan to represent South Africa at the Rugby World Cup.
Hundreds of fans clad in green and gold gathered at OR Tambo International Airport to wish the Boks well ahead of the prestigious rugby tournament in east Asia.
The Springboks play Japan in a warm-up match on Friday and then open their World Cup pool commitments against New Zealand on September 21.
Before Springbok captain Siya Kolisi could address the hundreds of fans, the team and fans came together to sing the national anthem.
Kolisi, who will captain the Springboks for the first time in a Rugby World Cup, was blown away by the support.
“Thank you for your continuous support, especially in the past three years. You guys have really helped us out a lot and seeing all of you today has really made us proud,” Kolisi told the crowd.
“We know what you guys expect of us and I can promise you we will give our best and we will work hard on and off the field.”
While the Springboks are one of the favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Cup, Kolisi is under no illusions it will be an easy task.
“We will definitely build on what we have worked on, but we know that we have to start from scratch,” said Kolisi.
“The Rugby World Cup is a completely different animal and every single team pitches up so we have to go there well-prepared.”
Kolisi missed the entire Rugby Championship campaign because of a knee injury, but returned to action against Argentina in the Springboks’ last home Test match.
“I’m feeling really good, to be honest,” was his reply when asked about his fitness levels.
Sports and Recreation Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who was also in attendance, was confident of a Springbok win.
“The whole country is behind our boys,” he said. “We need them to win because each time they win, they bring all of us together as South Africans, so that’s very important.
“As a country we have confidence in them. They have won the Rugby Championship. They have won a World Cup in this country, on the continent of Africa.
“They have won it in Europe in France. Let them win it in Asia, so that they make history and become the only team which has won the World Cup on three continents.”
Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, who will be playing in his third successive Rugby World Cup, said he was desperate to lift the Webb Ellis trophy.
“I see it as the pinnacle of my career. It’s my third successive World Cup, so I have been working as hard as possible so that I can give my utmost best to the team.”
Mtawarira said the squad were looking forward to the warm-up game against Japan.
“Every game is vitally important... They are obviously coming into the tournament with a lot of confidence and they are playing in their own backyard.
“We are focusing on our processes and game plan and executing the plan. It’s all about us, not about the opposition.”
Mtawarira said he was thrilled with the squad that coach Rassie Erasmus had put together.
“Rassie has done an amazing job to get rid of the egos that were in the team. He wants us to take ownership of our own positions and take ownership of the roles in the team.
“The young guys have really stepped up and, as for us, we are working hard and trying to improve wherever we can.”
Springbok flyhalf Elton Jantjies said the team had one of its strongest squads in years.
“From a squad perspective, we have a lot of quality, a lot of experience, a lot of talent. We have a good mixture of players, and we have been working quite hard in the last few months making sure that we implement what the coach expects of us as individuals and as a team as well.”