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Springbok heroes: Who’s your favourite?

Faf de Klerk scores a try. Japan v South Africa. 1/4 Final, Rugby World Cup 2019. Tokyo Stadium 201

18 November 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

Springbok heroes: Who’s your favourite?

Fresh off a nation-building trophy tour that saw the Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks celebrated for the heroes they are, Quintin van Jaarsveld wonders who’s the most beloved of the bunch.

The Springboks wrapped up their trophy tour last Monday. Over the course of five days, the pride of the nation travelled through Gauteng, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town in their double-decker bus to celebrate with supporters and showcase the Webb Ellis Cup.

Every member of the squad and management team were showered with praise and love by South Africans who’d yearned for hope in these tumultuous times. It was truly spectacular scenes, people from different races and religions coming together to show their appreciation to the newly-crowned world champions and join in the festivities.

A select few were ultimate fan favourites. Captain Siya Kolisi, unsurprisingly, was chief among them. Throughout capturing a maiden Rugby Championship title and their ascension to rugby heaven in Japan, some players stood out and saw their popularity soar to unprecedented heights.

The trophy tour gave a good indication of which Springboks are superstars among superstars in the eyes of rugby lovers and the general public. To get the conversation started around who your personal favourites are, I’ve identified five players who through their heroics this year, legacies, light-hearted antics or inspirational journeys received overwhelming praise on their victory road.

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The face of a transformed and triumphant team. In leading the Springboks to a third World Cup title, Kolisi cemented his place in rugby and South African history. The country’s first black captain became the first black skipper in history to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup aloft. In a perfect world, the colour of Kolisi’s skin should be a non-issue, but in South Africa – with its troubled past – it matters.

The image of Kolisi lifting the trophy up high, surrounded by his band of brothers, is right up there with that of Francois Pienaar receiving the same golden token of excellence from Nelson Mandela, who by wearing a Green and Gold No.6 jersey of his own scorned, in the hearts of many, the hatred the Springbok logo triggered in 1995.

Kolisi has become a national hero – a unifier, a symbol of hope and a leader in every sense of the word, spreading a powerful message that, as the team’s tournament motto proclaimed, South Africans are truly #StrongerTogether. President Cyril Ramaphosa himself jokingly said that if the elections were to be held now, Kolisi would be sworn in as president.

In a national-building road trip full of emotional highs, none was more powerful than a schoolboy being brought to tears after Kolisi signed his boots. THAT moment encapsulates both the incredible power of sport and the iconic, transcendent figure Kolisi has become.

It’s the magic moments when he mesmerises would-be defenders like a snake-charmer with his scintillating speed and breath-taking footwork that get fans jumping out of their seats and make Kolbe a regular on highlight reels. However, it’s the Lionheart of the 1.7m, 74kg right-winger that skyrocketed him to superstardom not only in South Africa but around the world this year.

He proved that smaller players, contrary to popular belief, can not only hang but thrive in the land of the giants that is Test rugby. Kolbe consistently upstaged much-larger foes through superior determination and was undoubtedly one of the Springboks’ best performers in 2019. With his heroics both in the Rugby Championship and the World Cup, he’s inspired a new generation of smaller youth to block out the noise and take up the sport.

No words can do justice what a hero’s welcome Mtawarira received on the Durban leg of the victory tour. “The Beast”, who played a South African-record 159 Super Rugby games for the Sharks and helped them capture three Currie Cup titles, almost singlehandedly brought Durban to a standstill as he took centre stage and proudly showed off “Bill” with the same roaring passion that fuelled his 13-year career.

He’s been a fan favourite throughout his record-breaking career, earning the adulation of fans the world over, who in one shared voice bellowed out “Beeeeast” whenever the legendary loosehead prop touched the ball. Few players in the history of the sport captured the hearts of the global rugby audience quite like Mtawarira, and it was only fitting that he was showered with praise during his last ride.

Not the most popular player (to put it mildly) during the World Cup, many unfairly criticised the scrumhalf for his abundance of box kicks. After all, he was simply following orders, containing his natural attacking instincts to execute the Springboks’ kick-heavy game plan, and he was pivotal in the play-offs.

All was “forgiven” when the Webb Ellis Cup was won. De Klerk then broke the internet when footage of him meeting Prince Harry in his proudly South African speedo surfaced. The royal had popped into the Springbok change room to congratulate the team on their 32-12 win over England in the final and got more than he bargained for.

Photos and memes of the colourful De Klerk spread like wildfire. Everyone knew who the little guy with the blonde mane and patriotic budgie smuggler was, and everyone wanted to meet the man, the myth, the legend during the nationwide triumph tour. Always up for a laugh, De Klerk played it up, giving fans and even Archbishop Desmond Tutu a glimpse of his now-famous flag speedo.

On the surface, Mapimpi is celebrated as a try-scoring machine. A finisher extraordinaire, he ran in six tries at the World Cup, second only to Wales wing Josh Adams, to take his tally to 14 in as many Tests. He’s a world-class wing, but he’s so much more than that. No Springbok has a more inspirational and endearing story than the always-smiling Mapimpi.

Whereas practically all of his teammates attended elite rugby schools that paved the way for their Springbok futures, Mapimpi grew up in impoverished Tsholomnqa in rural Eastern Cape, where he had to walk 10km to school every day. A diamond in the rough, his journey to becoming a World Cup-winning Springbok is what movies are made of, even more so considering the heartache he’s endured along the way, having lost his mother, sister and brother.

The 29-year-old is THE example that no matter where you come from, how many setbacks you’ve suffered or how overwhelming the odds are, it’s not impossible to make it to the very top. When the Springbok bus rolled through the Eastern Cape, cheering supporters came out in droves – many standing on the roofs on their cars – just to catch a glimpse of the much-loved Mapimpi.

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Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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