Victorious Springboks arrive back to a heroes' welcome in South Africa

Fans welcome South Africa' Springbok team as they arrive at O.R Tambo's international airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday Oct. 31, 2023, after the Rugby World Cup. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

By MOGOMOTSI MAGOME Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — World rugby champions South Africa arrived back in the country on Tuesday to a heroes’ welcome following a feat that saw them defend their title after beating New Zealand 11-12 in France over the weekend.

Thousands of Springboks supporters braved the cold and wet weather to gather at O.R. Tambo International Airport to welcome the squad, the first nation to lift the World Cup on four occasions.

The crowds went into a frenzy as captain Siya Kolisi entered the arrivals terminal hoisting the Webb Ellis trophy surrounded by the rest of his teammates.

It was a colourful affair, with many donning their green and gold Springboks jerseys, waving South African flags and holding up placards bearing congratulatory messages for the squad.

Supporters wearing Springbok jerseys or any South African colours were allowed to travel for free on the Gautrain train service to the airport, where traffic leading to the main terminals was jammed throughout the morning.

A South African Police Service band performed the national anthem and other iconic South African songs to welcome the squad back into the country.

The Springboks arrived the day after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa officially declared a public holiday for Dec. 15 to honour the team’s victory.

“We declare this to be a day of hope, a day of celebration and unity,” he said.

A four-day victory parade has been planned to celebrate the Boks’ victory in the major cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban, where supporters will get a glimpse of the Webb Ellis trophy.

Kolisi, who has become a cult figure of sorts after leading the team to a World Cup victory for the second time in a row, was among the players who received the loudest cheers from the fans as the squad arrived at the international arrivals terminal.

“This means a lot to the country because rugby always unites us even though the country is facing so many problems, it’s a special moment for us,” said supporter Joseph Malherbe.

The squad’s victory tour will begin on Thursday.