South Africa captain Siya Kolisi said he was “tired but grateful, humbled and over-awed” after the World Cup winners were greeted by thousands of fans on their return to the country.
The Springboks triumphed 32-12 over England in Yokohama on Saturday to claim a record-equalling third trophy and a large portion of the squad landed in Johannesburg on three different flights on Tuesday, with more to return on Wednesday.
Kolisi, South Africa’s first black rugby captain, was mobbed by supporters as he carried the Webb Ellis Cup through OR Tambo International Airport.
“In Japan, we got a glimpse of the support back home, but this reception is something else – we can’t begin to thank everyone for backing us throughout this journey,” Kolisi told the South African Rugby Union’s website.
“We did this for all South Africans – ordinary people who work tirelessly all day long to care for their families and friends and ultimately make our wonderful country an even better place.
“Winning the World Cup on foreign soil was very special and arriving home to this wonderful support is the cherry on top. We are tired but grateful, humbled and over-awed – thank you!”
Kolisi, coach Rassie Erasmus, vice-captain Handre Pollard and others had been delayed for a few hours in Sydney ahead of the final leg of their journey, but fans stuck around having earlier greeted the likes of World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph Du Toit and final try scorers Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi.
The squad will now embark on a ‘Champions Tour’, taking in appearances in Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town after kicking off with a parade through Pretoria, Johannesburg and Soweto on Thursday.
“We brought the Webb Ellis Cup home for all South Africans and we really wish we could go everywhere to thank our supporters, but unfortunately logistics and time constraints doesn’t allow for that to happen this time,” said Erasmus.
“I would like to agree with Siya – the support here at the airport today made all the hard work and sacrifices over the last two months worth it.
“Thank you to everyone who came out to greet us tonight.”