(YOKOHAMA, Japan) — Siya Kolisi grabbed the Webb Ellis Cup, gave it a kiss and hoisted it high as fireworks exploded and his teammates — black and white — rejoiced behind him.
A blowout victory in the Rugby World Cup final for the Springboks.
Yet another transcendent moment for post-apartheid South Africa.
Led by the first black captain in the Springboks’ 128-year rugby history, South Africa’s multiracial squad swept to a record-tying third World Cup title by overpowering England in a 32-12 victory on Saturday.
“We have so many problems in our country,” the 28-year-old Kolisi said. “A team like this — we come from different backgrounds, different races — came together with one goal.”
Among the post-match celebrations was the poignant sight of Kolisi being joined on the winner’s podium by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was wearing a Springboks jersey with No. 6 on the back — the number worn by the captain.
It evoked memories of South Africa’s first World Cup triumph in 1995 and Nelson Mandela — the country’s president at the time — wearing the No. 6 jersey as he handed the World Cup trophy to captain and backrower Francois Pienaar.
Kolisi thanked the South African people on the farms, in the taverns, in the townships and in the streets.
“We love you, South Africa,” an emotional Kolisi said, “and we can achieve anything if we work together as one.”
Kolisi was shaking with adrenalin as he belted out the national anthem before kickoff in Yokohama and was then at the heart of a massive effort by the Boks forwards, who brutalized England with their traditional power at the set piece to seize control of the game. He made more tackles than anyone other than two teammates and one Englishman.
The England forwards were driven backward at the scrum. Their passing was sloppy. The kicks were wrong. What happened to the team that outclassed two-time defending champion New Zealand in the semifinals?
Yet, at 18-12 with 20 minutes left, the final was still up for grabs.
Then the Springboks opened up, showing the other side of their game and scoring tries out wide through wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe.
Mapimpi kicked ahead from the left wing and was on hand to receive a pass from center Lukhanyo Am to race over near the posts in the 67th minute.
Kolbe’s try was even better, the small right winger scampering down the touch line before stepping inside England captain Owen Farrell and running through unchecked in the 74th.
The celebrations could start early for the South African fans inside the International Stadium and those back home, on a special night for a country still trying to fully emerge from the apartheid era.
“We had the privilege of giving people hope,” South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus said , “not the burden.”
And Erasmus saved some special words for his captain.
“It is easy to talk about going through hard times and struggling to get opportunities,” Erasmus said, “but it is tough when there are days when you didn’t have food or couldn’t go to school or didn’t have shoes to wear.
“When you sit down and think about it, there was a stage when Siya didn’t have food to eat. Yes, that is the captain and he led South Africa to hold this Cup.”
It was 24 years ago when the Springboks won the title, a year after Mandela became president in a democratic election after decades of racial segregation and his own imprisonment for 27 years.
Twelve years later, they won it again — also against England — and it has been another 12-year gap to their third.
While the All Blacks have also won the biggest prize in rugby three times, they have played in all nine editions of the World Cup. South Africa has only played in the tournament seven times, having been barred from the 1987 and ’91 tournaments as part of sporting sanctions during the apartheid era.
It is three wins from three finals for the Springboks, who finally scored a try in a title match and had 22 points from flyhalf Handre Pollard. Frans Steyn, who was 20 when he played in all seven games as the Boks won in 2007, went on late as a replacement and now has won two World Cup titles for South Africa.
England never led in the final — all of its points came through penalties by Owen Farrell — and barely got near South Africa’s tryline. England’s players slumped to the ground at the final whistle, lock Maro Itoje hurling his scrum cap.
Maybe they did play their final last weekend, as some of their fans feared. Maybe beating Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in a span of three weekends was just too much to ask.
Coach Eddie Jones, an Australian brought in after the wreckage of the 2015 World Cup that England hosted but didn’t even get out of the pool stage, got the team to the top of the rankings — his first aim after taking charge.
But he couldn’t deliver a second title for England, after the class of 2003. Jones was also on the losing end in ’03 as Australia’s coach in a final decided by a dropped goal in extra time.
“I thought they executed their plan brilliantly,” England flyhalf George Ford said of the Boks. “They just did a job on us.”