Beyond the Bok stats — ‘Chasing the Sun 2’ showcases SA’s pluck, fight and plight

Beyond the Bok stats — ‘Chasing the Sun 2’ showcases SA’s pluck, fight and plight
Illustrative image: RG Snyman (second from left) celebrates with Franco Mostert while Bongi Mbonambi raises his arms in victory after South Africa’ s win against England during the World Cup at Stade de France in Paris on 21 October 2023. (Photo: Gaspafotos / MB Media / Getty Images)

It’s far more than just another celebratory documentary about stats and milestones. It’s about the Springboks’ quest to inspire and to lead.

Why does the Chasing the Sun documentary exist? What is it about, and does it serve any other purpose beyond celebrating the Springboks’ recent achievements and showcasing a few light-hearted moments? 

We know that the Boks won Rugby World Cup 2023 and, in doing so, broke the record for the most World Cup titles. Siya Kolisi’s side is the greatest South African team of all time, and one of the most successful Test units of this or any other era.

But this documentary is about far more than stats and milestones. As was the case with the first season of the series – which aired almost a year after the Boks won the 2019 World Cup – the second instalment revisits a successful campaign and all the blood, sweat and literal tears shed behind the scenes.

Erasmus’s explosive message

If the first episode is anything to go by, the series may break another record for the most swear words in a documentary.

The most explosive scene plays out during the half-time break of the World Cup semifinal, when the Boks are staring down a defeat to England. Rassie Erasmus, who was director of rugby and not head coach, is tearing into the players, telling them that they’ve broken a promise to play to their potential and maintain their discipline, and goes as far as to call them “fucking liars”.

Expletive-riddled half-time rants are increasingly rare in professional rugby. Coaches use those precious seconds to ensure that tactical plans are effectively communicated – and typically reserve their more colourful language for subsequent video sessions with the team.

In this scenario, however, there is no tomorrow in the context of the Boks’ World Cup campaign. The documentary does well to capture the sense of desperation, with Erasmus going to extremes to shake the complacency out of his players.

We all know how that particular game ended – with RG Snyman scoring a late try, Ox Nché winning a scrum penalty on the stroke of full-time and Handré Pollard stepping up to kick the match-winning penalty.

What we don’t know – and what is highlighted in this episode – is how Erasmus spoke to his players and how they reacted at half-time. If Franco Mostert’s expression of terrified realisation isn’t a meme yet, it should be.

Chasing the Sun

Kolisi’s statement takes centre stage

That’s not what this series is about, though. Erasmus’s gritty speech rivals Al Pacino’s pep talk in Any Given Sunday, but those words aren’t as significant or as poignant as the few spoken by Kolisi in another insert.

“It’s getting worse,” he says.

The Bok captain isn’t talking about the 2023 World Cup campaign, his team or even the game of rugby. He’s lamenting a country in free fall, and explaining how the Boks’ bold yet necessary quest can provide this nation with a sliver of hope.

We know how this chapter ends, too, with tens of thousands of South Africans flocking to the various city centres to welcome the Boks back after a successful World Cup campaign.

As many commentators opined at the time, Kolisi, Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber and the rest of the Bok team put the South African politicians to shame. The Boks delivered on a promise that was made, and united a nation in the process.

Read more in Daily Maverick: What the Springboks’ real gift to South Africa is

Meanwhile, the country is beset by crime, corruption and gender-based violence, poverty and unemployment are on the rise, and access to water and electricity is dwindling. When Kolisi says that it’s getting worse, he’s putting it mildly.

Making a difference

So, do the Boks’ achievements matter in a broader context?

I’ve often wondered why so many people dismiss the Boks, and utter statements along the lines of “a World Cup victory won’t make a difference”. These statements largely miss the point.

Few rugby teams take on the additional responsibility of providing their respective countries with hope and inspiration. Professional sport is tough enough without that added pressure.

That Erasmus and the Boks have embraced such a responsibility speaks volumes. And to be clear, this mission was taken on when the group first came together in 2018 – before the team had won anything, and well before any documentary was pitched.

Erasmus knew that results were all-important, that wins would force people at home and abroad to take the Boks and their message seriously. Two World Cups later, and the world is certainly listening.

Furthermore, many of the players have used their success on the field to make a difference off it. Kolisi, Cheslin Kolbe and Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira have launched foundations that help the less fortunate, and Makazole Mapimpi and others continue to fight against gender-based violence and raise awareness about other important issues.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup

When Kolisi said that things were getting worse in South Africa, he voiced what many of us are thinking. But in spite of the odds, many of us manage to survive and even prevail.

Kolisi has been quietly critical of issues, but has delivered his criticisms with diplomacy, and politicians have been fawning over him. The Bok skipper has become the moral voice of the country.

Perhaps this is why the current Bok side and their achievements resonate with so many in this country, because they face so many challenges daily.

Chasing the Sun may seem like another celebratory documentary after the fact. But the story wasn’t over in 2019, and certainly isn’t over in the wake of the 2023 victory. The next chapter of the story is already under way.

Erasmus has already spoken about pushing for an unprecedented hat-trick of World Cup titles in 2027. In a way, the latest instalment of Chasing the Sun will set the tone for the four-year cycle to come.

There will be challenges, and inevitably there will be casualties in the form of retiring players. Erasmus has told us to expect a few defeats along the way.

What should remain constant, however, is this group’s quest to inspire, and ultimately to lead.

As Kolisi suggested, South Africa needs that leadership now more than ever. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Haven’t watched it yet, but definitely plan to! The Boks perfectly illustrate what can be achieved with proper planning, the best people for the job and sticking to it. In contrast to the ANC, which has no planning (or such convoluted planning processes the horse has bolted long before they implement plans), some of the worst, most unsuitable people in place and zero ability to follow through on plans. The ANC are closer to the Wallabies of the last World Cup! 😆 🤣 😂

  • Steve Davidson says:

    Pity, as I’m not prepared to pay DSTV almost a grand to watch their offerings there’s no chance I’ll get to see this, or even the one from 2019. Typical – they really deserve to be given the boot. Preferably Pollard’s right one up their MD’s backside.

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