“Humbled and grateful” is how Springbok captain Siya Kolisi reacted the homecoming laid out by thousands of boisterous South Africans as the newly-crowned RWC champions touched down at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg Tuesday.
The 31 players that did duty in Japan in the last two months arrived on three different flights after close to 40 hours of travel time from Tokyo.
Groups of Springbok players and management flew via Sydney and Abu Dhabi. More squad members are arriving on Wednesday.
The first group to arrive – which included World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, RWC final try-scorers Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, as well as RWC final man of the match Duane Vermeulen – were met by thunderous cheers as the Boks exited into the International Arrivals hall awash with green and gold.
Kolisi and Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus – whose flight via Sydney was delayed by a few hours – landed after 19:00, with supporters patiently waiting for their arrival.
“In Japan, we got a glimpse of the support back home, but this reception is something else – we can’t begin to thank everyone for backing us throughout this journey,” said Kolisi.
“We did this for all South Africans – ordinary people who work tirelessly all day long to care for their families and friends and ultimately make our wonderful country an even better place,” said the skipper.
“Winning the World Cup on foreign soil was very special – and arriving home to this wonderful support is the cherry on top. We are tired but grateful, humbled and over-awed – thank you!”
“We brought the Webb Ellis Cup home for all South Africans and we really wish we could go everywhere to thank our supporters, but unfortunately logistics and time constraints doesn’t allow for that to happen this time,” said Erasmus.
“I would like to agree with Siya – the support here at the airport today made all the hard work and sacrifices over the last two months worth it. Thank you to everyone who came out to greet us tonight.”
Erasmus said the Boks can’t wait to embark on their trophy tour, which kicks off in Gauteng Thursday.
The tour kicks off in Gauteng on Thursday, November 7, with the Bok bus travelling through parts of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto.
On Friday (November 8) the Boks will be in Durban, followed by stops in East London (Saturday, November 9), Port Elizabeth (Sunday, November 10) and Cape Town (Monday, November 11) on a whirlwind tour stretching over five days.
More details around the routes the Bok bus will take and where supporters will be able to see the players and the Webb Ellis Cup will be announced on in due course.