The heroic Springboks were welcomed back to home soil on Monday by a variety of fans reflecting the popularity of the world champions across the country.
Although the numbers were far less compared to those who pitched up at the airport following the team’s 2007 Rugby World Cup glory, the atmosphere at the OR Tambo International Airport was euphoric.
Fans — from four-year-olds to pensioners — clapped, whistle and screamed their lungs out as the team, clad in pin-striped suits and white shirts made their way to a podium erected at the airport.
Among the young supporters was Britney de Freitas (10), who travelled from Boksburg with her mother and younger sister to get an autograph for their father.
”We came to get them to sign my dad’s book,” she said while holding up a copy of Mauled, by Springbok captain John Smit and Craig Ray.
Smit, she said, completed grade one at the same primary school she attends.
President Jacob Zuma also attended and donned a green and gold blazer.
The Springboks, Zuma said, were ”simply the best”.
The team clinched their third Tri-Nations title after beating New Zealand 32-29 in Hamilton on Saturday.
”Those who have been around will know that the Springboks are special citizens of this country. They make us proud … those countries coming to play with them think twice before any game.
”I can’t remember a Boks team that beat the All Blacks in succession, proving once more we are indeed the best,” said Zuma to cheers and whistles from the crowd.
Zuma was also handed a number three jersey by team captain Smit, who said Zuma’s presence was a privilege.
”It’s been a phenomenal couple of weeks … we really appreciate the energy of the supporters.”
Coach Peter de Villiers said the support and pressure put on his team by supporters ”gives us the strength to be the best we can be”.
SA Rugby Union president Hoskins also congratulated the team, saying they had performed well.
”We are really happy. We knew it would be difficult because beating the All Blacks is always difficult, but we did it.”
The crowd earlier sang and danced to Afrikaans musician Pieter Koen’s Eina Eina as they waited for their heroes to arrive.
Others, some having travelled from places like Lenasia, Eldorado Park and Pretoria, like Joseph Reid (4), whiled away the time by having pictures taken with the Springbok mascot. – Sapa