South Africa is a nation used to its winning rugby team, so bring the trophy home. We expect it - again. This was President Zuma’s message to the Springboks as they leave for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. By KHADIJA PATEL.
The tone of the presidential send-off to wish the national rugby team good luck was almost militant. President Jacob Zuma sounded the cry to war as he bade the Springboks farewell as they prepare to depart for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand on Thursday. “We believe you will win the battles and the war,” Zuma told the team assembled at the presidential guesthouse in Pretoria on Monday morning. As the president drew his daggers against the world’s rugby playing nations, sports and recreation minister Fikile Mbalula was in a similar mood. “We are going to war,” said Mbalula, “This team is prepared to die with their boots on in defence of this nation.”
If the Springboks were shocked by the intensity of the expectations heaped on them, they certainly did not show it. When captain John Smit handed over a gift from the team to the president, he quipped that his men would die in their boots for their country, if needed.
Zuma alluded to his own challenges as a leader when he commended coach Peter de Villiers on the challenges that lie ahead. “South Africa is full of critical minds,” he said, “Whether we like the players, or whether the players mishandled the ball or missed the kick, it is the coach that must answer for the team he has chosen. It is a very difficult task being a coach,” he said.
The President reminded the team SA was a nation which enjoyed winning, “South Africa is a spoiled nation. If you win all your games and then lose one, they will say you are useless.” While entreating the team to “do their best”, Zuma also reminded the squad, “It is your national duty to bring the trophy back to Mzansi. Each and every South African is with you,” he assured the team. “You are carrying the dreams and aspirations of the rainbow nation on your shoulders.”
Zuma also paid tribute to sport as a nation-building tool and singled out rugby as an essential tenet of the South African identity, or as he termed it, “South Africanness”. “Sport continues to be the glue that binds our people together. It cuts across the divides, helping us to build a South African identity that we are all proud of,” he said earnestly. He invoked his memories of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. “We believed at the time that nobody could beat us, like we believe now,” he said, assuring the squad that in his opinion any South African rugby squad was good enough to take on the world.
“Nobody can defeat us. We are the kings of rugby,” the president said. He humorously implored the team not to be intimidated by the All Blacks’ famous haka, or as he called it, “The funny thing they do before they play”. He said the Kiwis “will be humbled”.
The president joked that the team would not be allowed back into the country if they did not win the trophy an unprecedented third time. The expectations of this Springbok team are certainly high, but it remains to be seen whether they can deliver. Despite beating the All Blacks two weeks ago in Port Elizabeth, many pundits feel the team looks inferior to a New Zealand XV that will seek to win the William Webb Ellis trophy on home ground. The All Blacks have only won once – the first tournament in 1987 when SA was still barred from international sport. South Africa and Australia have each won the cup twice and the Bokke go into the tournament as defending champions weighed down with the expectations of a nation.
But it’ll be Richie McCaw’s All Blacks who have to bear the real pressure in front of unforgiving Kiwi crowds. DM
Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.