The Springboks said “thank you, South Africa” as they departed from OR Tambo International Airport for the ninth Rugby World Cup on Friday.
Director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, a squad of 31 players and 20 management headed to Japan before a cheering crowd of approximately 2000 people after a week of media, public and private engagements in Johannesburg.
They were officially seen off on their expedition by the Minister of Sport, Mr Nathi Mthethwa, before the 25-hour journey to Seki, where the squad will be based before moving to Kumagaya for the match against Japan a week today.
“Each time the Springboks win the Rugby World Cup, they bring confidence to the entire country.
“We want them to be the first team to win the RWC on three different continents and we wish them well for the tournament in Japan,” said Minister Mthethwa.
“We’d like to say ‘thank you to South Africa’ for the support and best wishes they have shown the Springboks this week,” said Erasmus.
“It has been a busy week and a tiring one at times to be honest. The boys had two hard field sessions as well as morning to night activities with our commercial partners, media and public.
“The support people have shown to the team has been really humbling and inspiring. We’re just a rugby team that is going out there to do our best on the rugby field but we know that when the Springboks are doing well it gives the country a lift or, at least, I hope it does.”
The week started with the public naming of the squad live on national television before an excited public audience at Multichoice City.
The entire squad was available for interview by a 70-strong media corps and press conferences and one-on-one media engagements have followed.
The team attended a glittering farewell banquet hosted by principal team partner MTN as well as breakfast hosted by FNB.
The squad was also dispatched to visit the offices of sponsors across Johannesburg in a concerted effort to show its appreciation of the support the team has received.
“It has been great to be able to interact with so many people and show our real appreciation of their support. We don’t normally get the time to do this kind of thing but it was important for us to really show people that appreciate their support,” said Erasmus.
“To have so many people behind us, really gives the boys a lift but, I’ll be honest, the expectations make me nervous. But this is our job and when we are in Japan we’ll be focused on the main thing, the rugby.”
The Springboks’ final warm-up match before the Rugby World Cup begins, against Japan next Friday, is live on SuperSport 1 (kick off at 12h05 SA time).