Boks’ grand welcome

2011-09-03 19:52

Having a public send-off before winning anything seems a bit premature to me, but experiencing the Springbok Fans Farewell first-hand, with thousands of South Africans of all races rallying behind the Amabokoko, I couldn’t help being swept away by the occasion.

I was lucky to be one of the ­­ 36 000-odd people who crammed into Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton on a sunny Johannesburg afternoon to say goodbye to the 30-man Springbok squad and management before their departure for New Zealand to take on the rest of the World at rugby’s biggest showpiece on Thursday evening.

And what an occasion it was.

People donned rugby jerseys, painted their faces green and gold, blew vuvuzelas and waved the South African flag. There was a tremendous sense of expectation just before the Boks arrived at about 5pm to face the huge sea of people.

Thousands of fans lined the streets to urge the Springboks to “bring it back home” and Nelson Mandela Square went Bok-beserk.

After the national anthem was sung (luckily this time not by Ard Matthews or Ras Dumisani), the Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula made his speech and told the Bokke to “Gaan moer hulle!”

The Springboks then took a short walk on a red carpet from Nelson Mandela Square to the Sandton Gautrain Station. Players and coaches handed out signatures, hugs and even kisses to tens of thousands of fans – everyone wanted a bit of the Boks.

All the players and coaches were jammed into one carriage. The train reached impressive speeds of up to 160 km per hour and in just under 15 minutes we were at OR Tambo International Airport ready to board Flight QF 64 to Sydney at 8:55.

When the plane landed about 13 hours later it was at Sydney International Airport and we then transferred to an Air New Zealand flight two hours later, arriving at Wellington Airport on Friday 11:55 NZ time.

It was a long, arduous trip but it was all worthwhile when the Boks were warmly welcomed to New Zealand in a manner as warm as their send-off.

More than 1 000 vocal supporters crammed into the small arrivals area at Wellington International Airport to greet the defending world champions.

After their amazing send-off, in SA it was great to see a hardened base of support also waiting for the Boks in the bitterly cold late-night air of Wellington.

The fans chanted, and swept away by the moment, broke into strains of the national anthem and Shosholoza.

A major media contingent also braved the cold night, showing just how respected the Boks are in these parts while a local Maori group was on hand to welcome the Boks with the Kapa Haka – a traditional greeting for visitors from abroad.

After sleeping only a few hours I realised I was still suffering from jet lag. But before the Springbok press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel on Saturday morning, I met up with Bryan Habana, Gio Aplon, Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, Bismarck du Plessis and Heinrich Brüssow at a local cell phone shop.

Like me they were shopping for local sim cards and data bundles to get connected to the local networks.

Later, at the conference, the Bok coach once again let the cat out of the bag. When asked by a New Zealand journalist about his captain John Smit’s role in next Sunday’s opener against Wales, he simply replied: “John is the best hooker in world rugby at the moment so we will be very sensible when we make our selection.”

Smit, who was sitting beside his coach, managed to tactfully defuse the tension. He quipped: “When I hear the coach talking like that it reminds me of my wife. She thinks I’m the most handsome guy in the world.”

We can only lick our lips in anticipation for what is to follow.
Let the games begin!

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