World Rugby Coach of the Year award winner Rassie Erasmus of South Africa (right) and Team of the Year award winner Siya Kolisi pose with the trophies following the World Rugby Awards 2019 ceremony in Tokyo, Japan, November 3 2019. Picture: KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP
World Rugby Coach of the Year award winner Rassie Erasmus of South Africa (right) and Team of the Year award winner Siya Kolisi pose with the trophies following the World Rugby Awards 2019 ceremony in Tokyo, Japan, November 3 2019. Picture: KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP

On Saturday we set aside our problems and differences to stand in unity and national pride in celebration of our Rugby World Cup victory over England in Yokohama, Japan.

The win by the Springbok team, led by its first black captain and an Afrikaner coach, and the ensuing celebration gave us a rare glimpse of what Nelson Mandela’s ideal harmonious multiracial and multicultural Rainbow Nation would look like.

Not only was the team the most racially representative, with six black players compared with the team that lifted the cup in 1995 and in 2007, South Africans of all shades packed bars, taverns and fan parks across the country and reflected the beauty of a nation revelling in diversity.

We shared drinks, embraced each other, flew the national flag, flooded the streets and honked our car horns when Handré Pollard’s boot kicked us into domination with six penalties before wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe dotted down two glorious late tries that put the game beyond the reach of the exhausted English team.

That mission was a powerful desire to set an example of what can be achieved in a united SA, which at this moment is struggling to emerge from decades of state capture which has corroded every layer of the state and further undermined social cohesion.

“Since I have been alive, I have never seen SA like this,” skipper Siya Kolisi said in front a packed Yokohama stadium, where president Cyril Ramaphosa, wearing the green and gold jersey, was in the crowd.

Though we have not seen a township-born black player lift the cup as captain of the national rugby team before, the spirit that drove him and his team has brought us here before. As in 1995 in the final against New Zealand’s All Blacks and England in 2007, the Springbok team was not looking to simply entertain tens of thousands at the stadiums and millions more watching at home. They had a bigger mission in mind.

That mission was a powerful desire to set an example of what can be achieved in a united SA, which at this moment is struggling to emerge from decades of state capture which has corroded every layer of the state and further undermined social cohesion.

But it was not just the spirit that carried them through. In coach Rassie Erasmus and captain Kolisi SA was given a salutary lesson in leadership, trust and discipline. The trust, respect and admiration between the two men was palpable when they spoke at a press conference after the match. While Erasmus brought the game plan — he made sure his forwards were always fresh — Kolisi and his men brought the hard work and commitment.

Erasmus spoke of the difficulties faced by millions of poor South Africans and how he had told the Springboks that it was their privilege to bring hope to those people. It was this approach that helped the team deal with the Rugby World Cup pressure.

“Because SA has a lot of problems and we started talking about how rugby shouldn’t be something that puts pressure on you. It should be something that creates hope. But you can’t create hope just by talking about it, hope is not something you say in a beautiful tweet,” Erasmus said.

His comments, broadcast live on television, could not have been more timely, and we hope Ramaphosa was listening. While the latter has been adept at finding the right words about hope, he has been a lot less successful than Kolisi and his men in delivering on the field.

On Friday night, hours before the win that raised the status of the Springboks to that of New Zealand with three World Cup triumphs, Moody’s revised the outlook on the country’s last investment-grade credit rating to “negative”. This gives us a narrow window to get our house in order to avoid our debt being kicked into junk territory.

SA cannot continue to talk about an economic turnaround in carefully crafted speeches without getting down to doing the work and putting in place structural reform policies — some of which would be painful for some in the short run but are our best shot at getting growth going in the long run.