Nelson and his nation on top of the world

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT WAS as much a joyous celebration of a new nation's identity as it was a game of rugby. South Africa's 15-12 extra-time victory over New Zealand in the final of the Rugby World Cup in Johannesburg yesterday sparked such a genuine expression of joy and reconciliation that it was impossible not to be deeply moved.

On the way to the ground, black taxi-drivers who knew nothing of rugby before this tournament were joining in unison with Afrikaners steeped in the game, by hooting their horns and clenching their fists in a display of unity and solidarity. This was to be a day which was not exclusively for the Springboks but for the whole of South Africa. As Francois Pienaar, the South African captain, said afterwards: "We didn't just have 65,000 people behind us; we had 43 million." Those with long memories will have thought of the contrast with Gary Player, the golfer, who once spoke of his country's three million people, betraying a belief that the only South Africans were whites.

Emotions ran high inside the magnificently appointed Ellis Park stadium, a shrine to rugby glittering in the bright sunshine and suffused with colour. Symbolically, President Nelson Mandela appeared on the pitch in Springbok green and gold wearing No 6, which was, by no coincidence, the number worn by Pienaar. Two great leaders united in the common cause. All around them was noise and colour. Aircraft flew overhead, skydivers landed on the pitch, Zulu warriors danced and the choirs sang.

It was an occasion as highly charged as any in the annals of the sport, and after the teams were locked at 9-9 at full-time, 10 minutes each way of extra-time was necessary. The sides traded penalty kicks before the issue was settled by a drop goal seven minutes from the end by the Springbok fly-half Joel Stransky. After the match, the Springboks gathered in a circle to say a prayer, thanking God for helping them to win the match.

Mr Mandela presented Pienaar with the William Webb Ellis Trophy before pumping his fists in the air. "Thanks for what you have done for South Africa," he said to the Afrikaner captain. Pienaar replied: "Thanks for what you have done to South Africa."

l Graham Thorpe, the England batsman, was taken to hospital after being hit on the head first ball during the Second Test match against the West Indies at Lord's. Suffering from slight concussion, he was detained overnight and it will be decided this morning whether he can bat again. He was hit by an unintentional "beamer" (a ball bowled at the head) from Courtney Walsh. England ended the day on 155 for 3, 114 runs ahead. Reports, Sport

Comments