Rassie Erasmus take a bow. Eighteen months after taking over as Springboks coach he has taken South Africa back to No.1.
It is the first time in more than a decade that South Africa topped the World Rugby rankings.
In fact, when Erasmus formally took charge in March 2018, the Boks were ranked just seventh – following two years that saw South Africa win just 33 percent (2016) and 54 percent (2017) of their matches.
Erasmus’ first year (2018) produced just a 50 percent success rate, but the signs of resurrection were there – a 36-34 win over New Zealand Wellington.
This year the Boks lost just one of their 12 matches, 13-23 to the All Blacks in the opening round of the World Cup.
But the resurgence continued and culminated in South Africa outplaying the pre-match favourites England 32-12 in the World Cup Final at the weekend, winning by a much wider margin than even their most partisan supporters anticipated.
It saw them move to No.1, ahead of New Zealand – who dominate the top spot for the past decade – with England dropping from first place to third.
* Meanwhile the Boks’ World Cup triumph was hailed by South African newspapers on Sunday as an “inspiration” to a nation suffering from racial tensions, unemployment and violence.
South Africa’s first black captain Siya Kolisi “and his Boks have lessons in unity for all of us” suggested the Sunday Times.
“There was something beautiful about the symbolism of Yokohama,” the paper wrote about Saturday’s 32-12 win over England.
For the Sunday Independent “the Boks have inspired their country”.
“It is the responsibility of the rest of South Africa to take their cue from the Boks, put aside their petty squabbles and put their country first,” its editorial said.
The paper recalled that since the ending of apartheid in 1994 “the Springbok emblem quite understandably has been the centre of heated emotions given its former apartheid connotations”.
But as a result of Nelson Mandela’s decision during the 1995 tournament to embrace it as a means of reconciliation, “it survived and now has the potential to grow into a rallying point for all South Africans”.
“The image of Siya Kolisi, the first black Springbok captain, hoisting aloft the Webb Ellis Cup is as iconic as the one of Madiba congratulating Francois Pienaar in ’95”.
The Times dwelt on the significance of Kolisi’s “wise words” after the final whistle in Japan.
“We have so many problems in our country but a team like this, we come from different backgrounds, different races but we came together with one goal and we wanted to achieve it,” the captain said.
“I really hope we’ve done that for South Africa. Just shows that we can pull together if we want to achieve something.”
The paper said Kolisi’s comments “apply hugely to the economy”.
Its front page ran the headline “Siyabonga” – ‘thank you’ in Zulu – with the skipper’s first name ‘Siya’ highlighted.
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