Rassie Erasmus delivered a moving and emotional speech in the wake of South Africa’s Rugby World Cup win, describing the “privilege”, not the burden, of providing hope and unity to a nation that continues to bear the scars of its divided past.
The Springboks saved their best performance of the tournament until last to blow away favourites England in Saturday’s final, winning 32-12 in Yokohama.
South Africa dominated proceedings throughout and never looked like relinquishing their lead after pulling ahead in the early stages of the match. After Handre Pollard’s composed kicking placed the side in the ascent, late tries from wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe made sure of the win.
Against a backdrop of continuing racial tensions and inequality in South Africa, the Springboks’ latest victory in the competition – one spearheaded by Siya Kolisi, the country’s first black captain – marks another defining moment for the post-apartheid nation.
As he reflected upon what South Africa had achieved, and how they had handled the weight of expectation hanging over them ahead of the tournament, Erasmus offered a touching insight into how his men had drawn inspiration from their backgrounds and the lives of their fans to turn the notion of “pressure” on its head.
“[Before the tournament] We started talking about what is pressure,” said Erasmus. “In South Africa pressure is not having a job. Pressure is one of your close relatives being murdered. In South Africa there is a lot of problems with this pressure. We started talking about things like that.
“Rugby shouldn’t be something that creates pressure on you, rugby should be something that creates hope. We started talking about how we’ve got a privilege of giving people hope, not a burden of giving people hope. But hope is not talking about hope and saying you’ve got hope and tweeting a beautiful tweet, and things like that.
“Hope is when you play well and people watch the game on a Saturday and have a nice BBQ and watch the game and chew food afterwards. No matter your political differences or your religious differences or whatever, for those 80 minutes you agree where normally you disagree, and you start believing in that. That’s not our responsibility, that’s our privilege.
“The moment you see it that way, it becomes hell of a privilege. That was the way we tackled this whole World Cup campaign.”
England were stunned by South Africa’s relentless intensity as their quest for a second World Cup title ended in defeat, having previously lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in 2003.
A tense arm wrestle delivered its critical moment in the 66th minute when Mapimpi and Am combined brilliantly down the left wing for the first of the Springboks’ two tries.
With Eddie Jones’ men forcing their attack in desperate pursuit of an unlikely comeback win, wing Kolbe delivered the knockout punch with six minutes remaining.
The victory maintains South Africa’s 100 per cent record in finals and sees the nation add to their 1995 and 2007 victories, drawing them level with New Zealand’s title haul.
“I just think the boys believed in themselves,” Erasmus added afterwards. “A bunch of guys who’ve been together 19 weeks, who know one another really well. We’ve got so much respect for England. We were a little fortunate but we’re really enjoying it at this stage.
“We just needed to use our players, our intelligence, the supporters we have. There are so many good things in South Africa but so often in the past we looked at the bad things. We decided we needed to stay together and work really hard and eventually we’ve won the World Cup and it’s great.
“Thank you to Japan for the way they’ve hosted the World Cup, and to the Springbok supporters. We never felt lonely in Japan, we felt them all the way. There’s millions and we love them and we can’t wait to get back home.”