DURBAN - The champagne has been on ice for two weeks and on Wednesday South Africans want the corks to explode in the air at 3pm when the host nation for the 2023 Rugby World Cup is announced.
Chester Williams, one of the darlings of the historic 1995 triumph of the Springboks, says a return of the World Cup to South Africa is long overdue.
In 1995, the Springboks won the Webb Ellis Cup against a backdrop of poignant nation-building for the newly democratic Rainbow Nation.
Williams, the Bok left wing on that historic day in June 1995, said: “This country has shown it is more than equipped to host international events. We did it in 1995 and again in 2010 (with the Football World Cup). We have the stadiums and, importantly, we have a sports-mad culture that will get behind the World Cup.
“My abiding memory of the 1995 final was pausing at the final whistle and looking around me (at Ellis Park), and taking in the multi-cultural celebrations. It was magical. Everywhere there were South Africans hugging and shouting in the stands.”
It is unprecedented in Rugby World Cup history for the member nations of World Rugby (formerly the IRB) to overturn the recommendation of the body that will in fact run the quadrennial event.
In September, after an exhaustive tendering, clarification and evaluation process, the Rugby World Cup committee announced the South Africa bid was commercially and technically superior to that of competitors Ireland and France.
Wednesday, 26 World Rugby constituents conduct a secret ballot, with top-tier nations Australia, England, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Argentina holding three votes apiece and the rest of the voting spread as follows: Canada (1), Japan (2), Georgia (1), Romania (1), USA (1), Asia Rugby (2), Oceania Rugby (2), Rugby Africa (2), Rugby Americas North (2), Rugby Europe (2) and Sudamérica Rugby (2).
The three bidding countries cannot vote.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will head a high-powered delegation in London that again includes Sports and Recreation Minister Thulas Nxesi, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander and chief executive Jurie Roux.
France and Ireland were disappointed after South Africa won the vitally important recommendation, and both countries have subsequently heavily criticised the South African bid while championing their own in an effort to influence voters.
It is not impossible that South Africa loses out on Wednesday but if that was to be the case, it would plunge the rugby world into crisis.
Mark Andrews, the Bok No 8 in the 1995 final, says a rubber stamp for South Africa today would give the country a shot in the arm.
“We can’t ignore that the Springboks are going through a rough time on the field of play. Our game needs a lift,” Andrews said. “But so does the country in general. Good news from London will give every South African cause for celebration.”
If it is “South Africa” on the lips of Bill Beaumont, the World Rugby chairperson when the big announcement takes place, it will mean so much more than rugby for South Africa. The commercial spin-offs alone are significant.
The foreign capital injected into the economy would mean a degree of job creation; the flood of visitors into the country would mean a boost for the hospitality and tourism industries; and there would be a sharp focus on crime prevention that hopefully will linger long after the World Cup has been won and lost.