Country united by Rainbow Nation's warriors

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"Do you mind if I stand next to you?" the black man asked. Mlungisi Kelembe felt a bit out of it, not because of his colour but because he worked for an American company. "They're not really interested in rugby," he said. His employers, US AID (Agency for International Development) was about the only company working to capacity in South Africa yesterday.

Not quite to capacity, for Kelembe scrounged a couple of hours off to walk around the corner to McGinty's bar to watch the most emotive match that has ever been staged in South Africa. The Stars and Stripes are sorely missed from the Republic, not least by Kelembe. If America had qualified (they were beaten by Argentina in a play-off) the US Aid office would have joined Kelembe in McGinty's.

The abiding memory of my last visit to South Africa, which coincided with Graham Gooch's rebel England cricket tour, was of a double-decker bus picking black workers up at 4am on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The signs on the bus said: "Non-whites only." Yesterday I rubbed shoulders with Kelembe, who plays No 8 for a mixed local junior club called the Green Wanderers, and about a thousand other people in McGinty's, a "traditional Irish bar" in the heart of Pretoria. The noise was deafening and that was before a ball had been kicked.

In Cape Town, 1,250 miles from here, the opening ceremony was impressive, even by Olympic standards. The 19 ethnic groups in South Africa put in an appearance before Sir Ewart Bell, the Irish chairman of Rugby World Cup Limited, paid tribute to two men, whose funerals he had attended, John Kendall-Carpenter and Danie Craven. Both had had a massive influence in rugby union and Sir Ewart appeared to wipe away a tear as he announced their names.

Then he introduced Nelson Mandela and the place went wild. That was just McGinty's, never mind Cape Town. People, black and white, stood up and applauded. The President referred to the Republic as the "Rainbow Nation" and in the stadium and in the bars and on the double-deckers and in the Green Wanderers XV the phrase had a resonance. There were black faces in the Australian team but the Springboks, without the injured Chester Williams, were all white, prompting Mandela to remark earlier in the week that this would be the last "lilywhite" South African team. Newlands was an appropriate venue.

Williams, who was at the centre of the huge PR campaign for the tournament in this rugby-bonkers country, was replaced on the left wing by Pieter Hendriks, and it was Hendriks' first half try that put the Wallabies on the back foot. David Campese has scored some wonderful tries for Australia but he has probably never conceded one as important as this. It was one on one and Hendriks beat him so easily he was able to raise an arm in triumph before crossing the line. It is not an example that others should follow, and if I were the South African coach I would give Hendriks a right rollocking for such a display of premature arrogance.

Nevertheless, the try gave the Springboks confidence and in the second half the world champions weren't in it until the last 10 minutes. Almost anything that Lynagh could do, Stransky could do better and in front of him the Springbok stand-off had the massive influence of Joost van der Westhuizen.

Before the start there was a chorus of "Waltzing Matilda" and at the end the South Africans were singing "Take the Wallabies home, sport." As for Campese, he's had better days. "You've got to remember he's an old guy," Mlungisi Kelembe said.