Andy Bull highlights the strong bond between Siya Kolisi’s South African team and their community.
Just a few months before the inaugural Rugby World Cup for men, the organizing committee realized that they had no trophy to award the winner. Co-chair John Kendall-Carpenter contacted former Wallaby prop Nicholas Shehadie to address the issue. Shehadie recalls receiving a call from Kendall-Carpenter, who informed him of the problem. After searching the Garrard vault at Regent Street, Kendall-Carpenter found a suitable trophy. The trophy was 15 inches tall and featured a nymph on one side, a satyr on the other, and a pineapple on top (which made more sense when it was created in 1906). Made of silver and plated in gold, it cost £6,000. Shehadie instructed Kendall-Carpenter to secure the trophy.
During Saturday night’s game at the Stade de France, the trophy was kept in a locked box on the sidelines, near the players’ tunnel. There was a rush to move it onto a pedestal just seconds before the teams took the field. A man gave instructions to two women, who had to wear clean white gloves to handle the trophy and move it a short distance. It was amusing to see the trophy being treated with such respect, almost as if it were a sacred object. The last time I saw it, Faf de Klerk was drinking beer out of it while wearing only a baseball cap and underwear.
The true value of the trophy goes beyond its material composition of silver and gold, which likely has appreciated in value over time. It holds great meaning for the players who compete for it. Only a select few have had the honor of hoisting it, including renowned players like David Kirk, Nick Farr-Jones, and Francois Pienaar. As the tournament grew in size, so did the significance of winning it. Legendary names like John Eales, Martin Johnson, John Smit, and the unparalleled Richie McCaw have all lifted the trophy. And now, the story of the Rugby World Cup cannot be told without mentioning Siya Kolisi, the township boy who became the captain of the Springboks.
Kolisi has joined McCaw in the back row and they are now on opposite sides. It may be controversial to say, but what Kolisi and his team have achieved in the past five years is comparable to what McCaw’s All Blacks did in 2011 when he played through injury and led his team to victory, and in 2015 when they dominated the game. In fact, it may even surpass it. South Africa’s consecutive wins were both on the road and in the second one, they had to defeat three top teams, including the home team with a crowd of 80,000 cheering them on.
Many talented teams and players had aspirations of achieving the same success as Kolisi. France’s Antoine Dupont, Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, New Zealand’s Sam Cane, and England’s Owen Farrell were all determined to win the championship while in France. Despite losing to Ireland by five points, South Africa also faced and defeated Scotland in the group stage, as well as the other top-ranked teams in the world. Their fierce drive and competitiveness ultimately led them to victory over all of their opponents.
The Rugby World Cup has never been organized in such a unique manner before, and it is unlikely that it will be in the future. World Rugby has made a commitment to adjust the scheduling of the draw to prevent such an uneven outcome in the tournament.
During the elimination rounds, they were able to defeat France, England, and New Zealand by a slim margin of one point each. Despite the close scores, the difference in skill and ability between the teams was vast. It was like the distance between two teams – one with the ability to excel under intense pressure, and the other three who struggled in those crucial moments. The first win may have been lucky, the second unexpected, but the third felt like undeniable evidence. It wasn’t just luck that set these teams apart, but determination. In the most challenging moments, the South African team always found a way to succeed.
The Springboks had several standout moments, such as Eben Etzebeth powering past three French defenders to score a try, Handré Pollard successfully converting a penalty kick in the 77th minute, and De Klerk making a crucial tackle on Dalton Papali’i as he made a break towards their 22-meter line. Despite opportunities for France, England, and New Zealand, they were unable to capitalize due to lack of nerve or accuracy. This is not simply a matter of skill, but of having the belief and determination to go above and beyond what your opponent is capable of. In a tightly contested match between top teams, it’s not about how you play, as any strategy can work, but about the motivation and drive that push you to go that extra mile.
Due to the leadership of Kolisi, who has a profound understanding and ability to convey the connections between the team, its members, and the country, South Africa consistently provided the most compelling response to the question of “why.”