Springbok captain Siya Kolisi presents President Cyril Ramaphosa with the No. 6 jersey. Picture: GCIS
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi presents President Cyril Ramaphosa with the No. 6 jersey. Picture: GCIS

Sport and politics make poor bedfellows. But after the Springboks’ astonishing victory in the Rugby World Cup final against England on Saturday, sport — and rugby in this case — has a lesson for politics, and President Cyril Ramaphosa in particular.

The Boks, according to the most patronising critics (especially the English) were big, brutal and efficient rather than adventurous, nimble and imaginative. And efficiency, they said at the start of the event, wouldn’t be good enough against the likes of Ireland, Wales, England or the All Blacks.

In the denouement of the early rounds of the World Cup, the Boks were able to avoid Ireland — thanks to the Irish succumbing to a surprise defeat by home team Japan — and New Zealand, courtesy of an inspired England team prevailing in the semifinals. So emphatic was England’s victory over the All Blacks, in fact, that few gave SA a chance. The Boks, by contrast, looked dull.

But Bok coach Rassie Erasmus had a plan. He never wavered or deviated. When scrumhalf Faf de Klerk was perceived to have kicked more than he passed in a match against Japan, the player was excoriated. Yet he was just sticking to the plan. Ramaphosa could learn from that.

Those in his cabinet who do not buy into the plan should be benched, if not dropped altogether. Gwede Mantashe comes to mind. Those who cannot stick to Ramaphosa’s game plan cannot play in his team. There are too many in his cabinet, and his party, playing a different game.

So much for the political analogy. Erasmus has promised a new dawn of his own. "We can’t just kick this on for a week," he said before Saturday’s 32-12 win. A victory, he said even before the kick-off, was needed to bring about a substantial uplift in the nation’s spirits and wellbeing.

Julius Malema’s EFF clearly did not enjoy the Boks’ victory, so that was a good start for Ramaphosa. Everyone else seemed to be happy, judging by the outpouring of goodwill from ordinary South Africans and the huge welcome the team received at OR Tambo International on Tuesday. This left the EFF not just outside the touchline, but right outside the stadium. Dali Mpofu’s attempt this week to ingratiate himself with one of the Springbok heroes, Makazole Mapimpi, was risible.

As for the game itself, this World Cup final victory may have been more significant than either the iconic Nelson Mandela-inspired one of 1995 or the triumph of 2007 in Paris.

This time, it wasn’t a mostly white affair, with black wings like Chester Williams and Bryan Habana playing heroic, if bit parts. This time black heroes had starring roles: Mapimpi scoring SA’s first try in a World Cup final and Cheslin Kolbe adding another, just to rub it in, with a dazzling run that left the England captain spread-eagled on the pitch. The two wings, along with the goalkicking of Handré Pollard, helped the Boks romp to victory.

Not to forget the hard graft in the scrums, mauls and rucks, all led by Siya Kolisi. Even Danie Craven, the old curmudgeon of SA rugby who once said a black man would never lead the Boks, might have embraced Kolisi rather than turn in his grave.

A delighted Ramaphosa watched from the touchline in Yokohama on Saturday. He must have watched on TV as the adoring crowd, many black, welcomed the Springboks at OR Tambo. That should inspire the president to act decisively — as Erasmus has done. South Africans love a winner and Ramaphosa was a winner in 2017. He must have Erasmus’s courage to drop those who won’t stick to his game plan. South Africans are desperate for hope, and it showed at the airport. Ramaphosa must take note.

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