'We had 43 million behind us'

Clem Thomas hears the Springbok captain pay tribute to a superior force
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The Independent Online
AT 5.04 local time yesterday afternoon, almost 65,000 South Africans inside Ellis Park went delirious with delight. But the Springboks' victory had a resonance beyond this magnificent stadium. As Francois Pienaar, the triumphant captain, said afterwards: "We had 43 million people behind us."

Pienaar, interviewed on the pitch, said: "It is the greatest moment of my life and there are too many people to thank. I want to take my hat off to New Zealand, who are a fantastic team and had us at full stretch for every second. I told my team to keep calm and to maintain their discipline, and Stransky ... you beauty!"

Later, Pienaar also paid tribute to the influence of his president. "When Nelson Mandela came into the dressing room before the game in a No 6 jersey, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. My team were very, very tense and he was a calming influence."

Kitch Christie, the South African coach, felt his side's defence had laid the foundations for victory. "Our tackling was unbelievable and the backs were simply superb. We said that if one man missed Lomu, then the next man had to get him. He got the ball eight times and we took him out eight times."

The South African manager Morne du Plessis believed that there was a deeper reason for the triumph. "We felt the surge of the nation and that is why I said three weeks ago that if we got to the final we would win the Cup. It was an unbelievable force."

Meanwhile, the All Black skipper Sean Fitzpatrick admitted his team had contributed to their own downfall: "The game was there for the taking and we didn't manage it. There were a number of times when the game was going our way but we made mistakes at vital times, and there were lapses of concentration. You get so many opportunities. South Africa took theirs while we let them slip."

The New Zealand coach Laurie Mains added: "South Africa defended well but our handling let us down. We dropped the ball too many times when not under pressure." The team manager Brian Lochore defended the younger All Blacks: "It would be totally unfair to point the finger at the youngsters. We made mistakes throughout the team."

Even though New Zealand had supplied many of the best moments in the tournament, the last word must go to Pienaar and his remarkable Springboks. "When Mr Mandela handed me the trophy, he thanked me for what we had done for South Africa. I thanked him for what he had done for the nation. And at the end of the match, we all said a prayer. We are believers."

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