Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar (Gallo Images)
Nelson Mandela took a replica Springboks jersey out of a plastic shopping bag and asked captain Francois Pienaar for permission to wear it before the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, it was revealed on Wednesday.
Pienaar happily agreed and the political prisoner-turned-state president wore it and a national team cap during the match won 15-12 by South Africa against New Zealand.
Balie Swart, the tighthead prop in the victorious Springboks side, recalled the plastic bag story Wednesday on the 25th anniversary of the final played at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
“The boys were in the change room about 45 minutes before the kick-off when we heard the deafening noise of a jet,” said the forward.
Swart was referring to a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet that flew just above the stadium in the highlight of the pre-final build-up.
“Nelson Mandela came into our room soon after carrying a plastic shopping bag from which he took out a replica of the No. 6 jersey worn by our captain.
“Then, in a very humble gesture from such a great man, the president asked Francois if he could wear it during the final.
“We gazed at each other in amazement that a world statesman would ask permission, and Francois was delighted to agree.”
Surrounded by foreign and South African officials wearing suits in the VIP section, Mandela sat in his predominantly green jersey and smiled throughout a seesaw title decider.
The president then presented the William Webb Ellis trophy, which symbolises world rugby supremacy, to Pienaar before a capacity 63,000 crowd.
A year earlier, Mandela had convinced the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party not to scrap the Springboks emblem from the national rugby team jersey.
To many in the ANC the emblem represented the racist past of South Africa, which was governed by a white minority until Mandela succeeded FW de Klerk in 1994.
Swart, who was replaced by Garry Pagel 68 minutes into a final won by an extra-time drop goal from flyhalf Joel Stransky, also remembered the post-match bedlam.
“I will never forget that as our bus snaked away from the stadium. It was incredible to see what that victory meant to so many South Africans.
“People of all races ran alongside the bus and it took much longer than usual to get from Ellis Park to our hotel on the other side of the city.”
Mandela died in 2013 and four of the triumphant Springboks – backs James Small, Chester Williams and Joost van der Westhuizen and forward Ruben Kruger – have also since died.