AUCKLAND, 2 Sept. - More than 36,000 South African fans turned out in Johannesburg to bid farewell to the Springboks as they departed for New Zealand to defend the Rugby World Cup they won in 2007 in France.
The South African players took 90 minutes to make the short walk from Nelson Mandela Square to the Sandton Gautrain railway station before boarding a train for the airport on Thursday.
The Springboks will land at Wellington airport just before midnight on Friday to begin their campaign to win the Webb Ellis Cup for a third time. Springbok coach Peter de Villiers said the squad had been stunned by the farewell and the weight of expectation had intensified accordingly.
“I was always nervous of having a public send-off as we have not won anything to celebrate,” said De Villiers.
“But when you see how South Africa is rallying behind the Springboks you cannot but be humbled and grateful.
“This will be one of the most memorable days in the lives of all our squad and we can’t help but take incredible energy from it.”