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Image courtesy of Christophe Ena — AP

South Africa’s Monumental Victory at the Rugby World Cup

Read about what South Africa’s rugby victory means on a global level and to NYUAD community members.

Nov 9, 2019

On Nov. 2, South Africa’s national rugby team — the Springboks — claimed a record-tying third Rugby World Cup title, in a historic 32-12 victory over their former English rivals. Despite losing early in a pool stage match to the New Zealand All-Blacks, the Springboks have shown once again how team chemistry and magic off the pitch (particularly from Head Coach Rassie Erasmus) can create big ripples across post-apartheid South Africa. Some individuals, such as former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, have even gone on to label the victory as a watershed moment for the nation; something much more meaningful than just a rugby match.
"It is a transformed team with 58 million people watching in South Africa, [with] all races wearing green, which wouldn't have happened in my time," said Pienaar, a member of the 1995 team that won the world cup under President Nelson Mandela.
South Africa’s current captain, Siya Kolisi, is the nation’s first black captain in their 128-years-long history with the sport. Kolisi was born in a township on the Eastern Cape — South Africa’s poorest province — to teenage parents that could not afford to keep him nor sustain his aspirations of athletic success. Kolisi was able to impress top scouts at a youth tournament and landed a scholarship at the prestigious Grey High School; a breeding ground for elite sports talent.
Unlike past success stories of Pelé and Messi, Kolisi has been forced to bear the burden of apartheid and its implications throughout his life. However, following the victory, his legacy as well as the current diversity of the Springboks, is being represented across South Africa as a shining example of Mandela’s 1995 promise for a rainbow nation. After all, Mandela had once said that “sport has the power to change the world”.
However, [CNN analyst Daniel Gallan takes a different view] ( For him, “it can only serve as a catalyst for change given the myriad economic and social problems South Africa faces.” South Africa still holds the highest Gini coefficient, a statistical measure of distribution typically used to measure economic inequality, in the world. This fact was connected by Daniel Debeer, Class of 2022, to a viral hashtag currently trending on social media in the nation. “One of the hashtags that was trending on Twitter was “#untilMonday”, and what that essentially means is that until Monday, we will have this euphoria, this sense of togetherness, this sense of unity, but only until Monday, when the white leaders of the country, the white monopoly capitalists return and tell you to get to work,” he explained.
Even Pienaar and Kolisi were not shy to admit that their country is still young, and that after having suffered from years of bad leadership, it now needs to set forth on a path toward rebuilding. However, with a moment in history such as the Nov. 2 victory, individuals like Pienaar and Camilla Boisen, a First-Year Writing Seminar Lecturer, claimed that this path is in the process of being constructed through the determination and diversity of players like Kolisi.
“South Africa is still obsessed with the … significance of racial difference, but this shows that most people are willing to put that aside to work together for a common goal. This particular win is especially significant since racial polarisation was increasingly used during the last five years of the Zuma administration to defend criminal interests. I think South Africans are all badly burned by that experience and the feeling of unity with this win must be a welcome relief from distrusted hate-peddling,” said Boisen.
Dylan Palladino is Senior News Editor. Email him at
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