Like all South Africans, Makhanda residents are thrilled with the Springbok victory in last Saturday’s Rugby World Cup. We all felt that it was ‘our boys’ who pulled a huge upset by defeating the highly favoured English team.
We are intensely proud of the important contribution that the Eastern Cape made to this important victory, but not everyone knows about our provincial connections. So let’s lay it out on the line. The captain of the team, and the man who raised the Webb Ellis Cup for South Africa, comes from Zwide, an impoverished township in Port Elizabeth. Siya Kolisi was born into an underprivileged situation but won a scholarship to Grey High School as an important first step to leading the best rugby team in the world.
Most people know that he married Rachel Smith and that they have had two wonderful children together, but not so many people know that she comes from Makhanda (Grahamstown) or that she attended Victoria Girls’ High School where she became captain of the swimming team.
The list of rugby luminaries from the Eastern Cape continues with the World Rugby Coach of the Year in 2019, Rassie Erasmus, the man credited with being the architect of South Africa’s victory in the World Cup. Erasmus was born in Despatch near Port Elizabeth and went to Despatch High School before becoming a Springbok rugby player himself
The list goes on with the first player to score a try for the Springboks in a Rugby World Cup final – Makazole Mapimpi. He scored six tries during the 2019 tournament becoming the top try scorer for the Springboks. He was born in Mdantsane and went to the Jim Mvabasa School in King William’s Town.
Lukhanyo Am, was born in King William’s Town, went to school there and then played for the Border Bulldogs. He put in a brilliant performance in the Rugby World Cup final and was instrumental in making sure that Mapimpi scored South Africa’s first try out of three finals.
A huge team like the Springboks, with all their players and support staff, requires superb organisational skills and the ability to manage people. That is where Charles Wessels from Makhanda comes in.
Wessels, Head of Operations of South African Rugby, is from Makhanda and went to Rhodes University. He even taught and coached rugby at Mary Waters School. His local experience made sure he knows how to manage operations for the Springboks.
So it would be fair to say that the Eastern Cape made a significant contribution to the Springboks’ success in Japan.
The proper Eastern Cape response to South Africa’s cheers for the winners of the Rugby World Cup: “You’re Welcome!”