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Rugby World Cup: How one team brings together a family, a nation and the world

Fans+of+the+South+African+rugby+team+cheer+after+the+victory.+
REUTERS/Esa Alexander TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Fans of the South African rugby team cheer after the victory.

28 years ago, the 1995 Rugby World Cup made its mark on the South African community. One year prior, South Africa had put an end to its Apartheid regime and voted in their first black president, Nelson Mandela. 

The story of that World Cup and how it was able to bring together a broken nation, has been told worldwide and been immortalized in the 2009 film, “Invictus.” As South Africa overcame New Zealand, the cheers of the nation allowed for people to come together, regardless of race, to celebrate and be proud of their team, the Springboks

On October 28, 2023, in Paris, France, the two rivals, New Zealand’s All Blacks and South Africa’s Springboks faced each other for the first time in a Rugby World Cup Final since that historic 1995 day. As South Africans gathered worldwide to cheer on their prized team, a community was again brought together by this team and this sport. Once again, the Springboks claimed the World Championship title. 

My family immigrated to the United States from South Africa in 2014. In those almost 10 years since we left, my father has not been able to visit the country he called home for the entirety of his life, and yet the pride and passion he feels for his home country still pours out of him when the Springboks take the pitch. This year my father invited me into this part of his life to learn about the sport and the team he treasures. As we sat together watching the semi-finals, South Africa versus England, we connected over him taking the time to explain the game’s intricacies to me. When we rocketed out of our seats to celebrate our team winning, I formed a new bond with my father that I had not had before. 

South Africa is a country filled with animosity, with a majority of its population living below the poverty line and lingering strife from the apartheid era still present in many communities.

According to the International Monetary Fund, South Africa sits among the highest levels of inequality globally and thus ensures there is a division amongst its citizens. 

Siya Kolisi, the Springboks captain, garnished international fame as he spoke out on how the game is bigger than himself and his teammates, and that winning the World Cup would have the potential to unite South Africans, giving the country something to be proud of. 

In an interview with BBC Radio, Kolisi said that he believes this win will have long-lasting effects on the South African community. 

“It’s probably going mad back home, hopefully, this can create a positive change in South Africa and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Kolisi said. 

The videos and photos of South Africans from various backgrounds taking to the street together to celebrate this historic win proved that this dream of Kolisi’s is a likely reality.

The Springbok effect does not only span across South Africa, rather many international rugby fans began to cheer the South African team on in their journey to the finals. Famed NFL quarterback, Tom Brady encouraged the Springboks in a video posted to X, formerly Twitter.
“Your guy’s triumph, it’s going to resonate beyond the boundaries of the stadium. It’s going to inspire future generations, showing them that with the determination, with courage, with an unrelenting belief that anything is possible,” Brady said. 

On the day of the final match, I gathered together with my South African family members and our American friends to cheer on the Springboks one more time, proving that this team resonates with more than just those who hold South African citizenship. 

In an interview with Fresno State Women’s Rugby player Isabella Bonilla, we discussed how the South African team has been able to inspire her and feel a connection to a team in which she has no relation or obligation. 

“I have always loved the Springboks and I have enjoyed watching the men’s team Faf de Klerk, Eben Etzebeth, Makazole Mapimpi [and] Siya Kolisi. So many of the Springboks are so incredibly humble, I think that is one thing that really draws me to the team,” Bonilla said. 

While rugby has not garnered much attention in the U.S., Fresno State is providing an opportunity for both male and female players to learn about the sport and the community surrounding it. 

“Fresno has a small rugby community, but I feel like it’s expanding. We support the men’s team and they support us. We also try and do what we can with other Fresno rugby clubs. When I am traveling and I meet others who play rugby I feel like there is an instant connection. I feel like we have been through some of the same things and maybe share some struggles,” Bonilla said.  

Although the Fresno rugby community may be small it is certainly powerful, with the Fresno State men’s teams taking the National Championship in 2022. Just like the Springboks, the Bulldogs are dominating on the rugby pitch. 

When the time was called after the 80-minute match and South Africa claimed their victory the crowd in the arena erupted into cheers, just like the crowds that gathered at watch parties worldwide. I was one of those proud South Africans cheering for my team’s win 5,500 miles away. The joy that I felt in that moment is one that I will not soon forget. While I may never live in South Africa again, this game reminded me that it will forever be my home. 

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    LenéNov 8, 2023 at 1:40 am

    I am also a fellow South African in the US. We are a family no matter where we are. Nothing compares to the bond we have in that country especially during the World Cup!

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