Thousands welcome home Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Members of South Africa's Rugby World Cup-winning team arrived home on Tuesday and thousands greeted them with a huge cheer at Johannesburg's international airport.
Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, who scored the Springboks' tries in Saturday's final against England, were among the first group of players to land at OR Tambo Airport.
As he emerged into view in the arrivals hall, Mapimpi held his hands up and clasped them together as the crowd roared. Kolbe was recording the scenes on his cellphone.
Teammate Damien de Allende, with his gold medal draped round his neck, pumped his arms in the air in front of the fans wearing Springboks jerseys who packed the hall. Duane Vermeulen, the player of the match in the final, dished out high fives to fans.
People were also crammed together on the balconies overlooking the arrivals area — there was no room to move anywhere — and a giant South African flag hung on one wall. The smiling players had to be shepherded through the crowd by a police escort.
Captain Siya Kolisi, the Springboks' first black test captain, and coach Rassie Erasmus are expected to arrive with the Webb Ellis Cup later on Tuesday night.
The Springboks won their third World Cup title by beating England 32-12 in Yokohama, Japan. Mapimpi and Kolbe rounded off that surprisingly dominant victory for the underdog Boks with late tries.
Mapimpi, like Kolisi, provided one of the heartwarming stories for the South Africa team. He grew up poor, went to an unfashionable school, and was overlooked for all of South Africa's youth teams and only made his international debut last year at the age of 27. He scored six tries at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the second-highest number at the tournament, including South Africa's first in a final.
"It's amazing for me. I'm proud of myself, I'm proud of the team, I'm proud of the South African people, I'm proud of my fans, I'm proud of my family," Mapimpi said. "I don't have a lot of words. I don't know what I can say. It's amazing."
Flanked by South Africa's minister of sports at the official arrival news conference, Mapimpi also made the politician gasp — and his teammates chuckle — when he uttered an expletive on live TV while remembering a grueling fitness session in the buildup to the World Cup.
Mapimpi also recalled how nervous he was ahead of the final, and how fellow wing Kolbe helped him.
"I didn't think about scoring in the final. I spoke to Ches (Kolbe) before the game and I was like, man I don't know what's going on with me, it's a final and I'm scared. He (Kolbe) sat with me and he said, 'man it's going to be amazing.'"
Inspired by the story of Kolisi, who rose from a poor township to lift rugby's biggest prize, the Springboks of 2019 have been compared to the team of 1995, which won South Africa's first World Cup at home in front of Nelson Mandela nearly a quarter of a century ago. South Africa also won the World Cup in France in 2007.
Kolisi's team has returned home to countrywide celebrations and will take the World Cup on a five-day tour of the nation starting on Thursday.