The pressure and excitement was palpable as thousands of South Africans bid farewell to the defending Rugby World Cup champions in Sandton, Johannesburg on Thursday.
Thousands of fans lined the streets to urge the Springboks to “bring it back home”. Nelson Mandela Square went Bok-beserk earlier in the day, reminiscent of the 2010 Soccer World Cup parade in Sandton last year.
People donned their rugby jerseys, painted their faces green and gold, blew vuvuzelas and waved the South African flag, ahead of the team’s departure for New Zealand on Thursday evening, to defend its 2007 title.
If they succeeded, the Springboks would be the only team in Rugby World Cup history to win the Webb Ellis Cup three times.
“Viva ama-bokke-bokke, viva!” Captain John Smith shouted at the crowd from the stage in Nelson Mandela Square.
“This is humbling,” he said when the team made its way to the stage, ahead of the singing of the national anthem.
A number of artists performed throughout the afternoon and evening. The Idols top 10 were in the VIP section, along with singer-songwriter Danny K.
Springbok regalia was on sale, and ushers handed out pamphlets with the lyrics to Shosholoza.
Also spotted was television figure Gladys Gaily, better known as “The First Lady” or “Mama Ajax”, who became famous for her over-the-top regalia during last year’s Soccer World Cup.
“Just yesterday was 2010, and now it’s 2011 … It’s time for the Springboks. They must moer [thrash] them,” she said.
“I know I’m normally soccer crazy, but today I’m here in support of the Boks.”
Springbok coach Pieter De Villiers described the event as the “most humble highlight” of his life.
“For eight weeks, we will carry 50-million people in our hearts,” he told the crowd.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said he stood in front of the Springboks with pride, honour and excellence.
“Go to New Zealand and make us proud. We stand here, black and white, red, yellow and purple … As a rainbow nation.
“Moer hulle! Bliksem hulle, die Bokke sal dans!”
A group of schoolboys from Jeppe Preparatory were lucky enough to get to the front of the stage.
“We are here to see our bokke! Go bokke!” shouted 11-year-old Reece Bloemstein.
Twelve-year-old Uyiosa Eweka, and Lusanda Nkosi (13) could not wait to see local band Freshlyground perform later.
The team signed autographs along West Street, before taking the Gautrain to OR Tambo International airport, from where they depart to New Zealand on Thursday night. — Sapa