One of the greatest moments of my life was watching a packed Newlands rugby stadium, comprising almost entirely white fans, thundering “Nelson, Nelson, Nelson” as Madiba made his way to commence his opening address for the 1995 World Cup.
Madiba magic was born, and how the rainbow nation responded to it.
Yet rugby was and is still perceived to be the preserve of whites who tolerate the “intrusion” of black and coloured players, or so some would have you believe.
If we have regard to the English Sunday newspapers, much is being made of this issue and how quotas will be forced on South African rugby, thereby weakening it: how the racists will be forced to endure black players being foisted upon them and watch (supposedly in horror) as South African rugby disintegrates into also-rans, destroyed by internal politics.
I’m afraid those who console themselves with this kind of garbage are in for a rude awakening.
One of the greatest seasons of my life was watching the predominantly white Loftus roar its approval as Bryan Habana destroyed team after team. It was as deafening as it was spontaneous and the myth that white South Africans would not tolerate or accept non-whites was bludgeoned to death.
Not only was Habana roared on as an equal, he also attained superstardom eclipsing the rest of the Blue Bulls in the hearts of the Pretoria faithful.
South Africans of all races appreciate class no matter the colour of the player’s skin. Not only will they endorse all players but as we have witnessed time and again, also spontaneously roar their achievements on.
One of the greatest years of my life was capped with the incredibly moving scenes of seeing our president hoisted aloft by the class of 2007 in the Stade de France after winning the World Cup.
Just as Madiba was the icon of 1995, so too had Thabo Mbeki assumed the mantle for his team — and how they responded, not only to the president but also to the unbelievable sights of millions of South Africans, predominantly black — demographics thy name is number — donning the green and gold the day before the final.
In a game that will never be remembered for its quality, they matched England and beat them using the formula prescribed for victory for the men from Twickenham.
If it was to be a tight forward battle with kickers punishing the mistakes, then the trophy would surely be on its way to the current holders. But it was not to be — Montgomery and Francois Steyn accumulated more than Wilkinson as the South African pack matched the potent Englishmen.
The trophy was coming home.
And yet I think the English press has missed out on an England campaign that may even have eclipsed the victory in 2003. That victorious England team had gone to Australia expecting to do well.
Clive Woodward, like Jake White, had over four years built a powerful unit who were giving their southern-hemisphere rivals more than just a headache. When they achieved glory the English fans were rightfully beside themselves with pride at the achievements of Sir Clive’s men.
Yet this team overcame far more and went far further than anyone could ever have dared hope. Coming into the finals, on the back of four long years of underachievement, they walked into a Springbok wall that thrashed them 0-36.
Cometh the hour, cometh the men — where they found the character and strength to overcome that setback, the cruel and often personal abuse of their press and the realisation that their whole game plan was wrong, the Lord alone knows.
Four years of planning into the dustbin, 36 days to get things right, these juggernauts “rose” from the dead and strode into the final with such pride and tenacity that many of us down in South Africa started to believe that we might be their next victim in the final itself.
Phil Vickery and his pack, Jonny Wilkinson, Mike Catt and the rest of this side are testimony to the bulldog spirit that continues to make England a force in world rugby even when their backs are against the wall and they have been written off.
Perhaps the achievement of 2003 left English rugby feeling flat, that they had taken their game to heights that could not be reached again. This team showed that English rugby can achieve the same heights even when they are perceived to be no-hopers and that they will, to my mind, will stand their game in good stead for many years to come.
World Cup 2007 has united our nation like no other sport in South Africa. As Naas, John (what a great character this man is) Robbie and Owen in the Supersport studio said, this time we must build on what we have achieved.
Just as both Jacob Zuma and the president and the rest of the country set aside their differences, so too must all South Africans in rebuilding this great land.
Let rugby descend upon every nook and cranny in the land, armed with ball and vision, to tap into the hopes and dreams of all young South Africans and make this great game one of the unifying forces that glues together the colours of the rainbow.