Springboks to play with Mandela effigy on sleeves

mandela_day_logoSouth Africa’s national team will have an outline image of Nelson Mandela on a sleeve of their shirts when they tackle Argentina Saturday in the Rugby Championship.

A Springboks spokesman said a logo that included the image would be worn by each player, and captain Jean de Villiers vowed his team would triumph to “make Madiba smile”.

Most South Africans call Mandela, a long-time political prisoner who in 1994 became the first democratically elected president of the republic, by his clan name Madiba.

“We are ready to play for Madiba and to bring a smile to his face by defeating Argentina,” centre De Villiers, 32, said after a warm-up session at the match venue.

“Every game you play for the Springboks is special and if you add to that playing for Madiba as well, then suddenly the occasion just becomes massive.

“This is an occasion to celebrate the life of a fantastic man and of a person who has given so much to rugby, to sport, and to the country,” said 87-cap De Villiers.

It is the first time an outline image of a person will appear on the green and gold shirt, which traditionally carries a sponsor logo, the national sport emblem, and a leaping Springbok.

The match is part of a historic day of sport at the 94,000-seat Soccer City stadium in Soweto that also features a friendly match between the national soccer team and Burkina Faso.

Branded the ‘Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day’, the event includes a football match between former South African and Italian stars and a music concert.

International icon Mandela turned 95 during July in a Pretoria hospital, where he has spent more than two months after being admitted for a recurring lung infection.

The latest official bulletin on his condition said Mandela remained “critically ill”, but doctors added that the former president “is making a slow but steady improvement”.

While president, Mandela had a huge influence on rugby and football, inspiring the Springboks to win the 1995 World Cup and Bafana Bafana (The Boys) to win the Africa Cup of Nations a year later.

A government brainchild, the Sport Day stages two football matches before the pitch markings are changed and the goals give way to posts during a 90-minute pre-Test break.

“We have practiced the changes several times and are confident they will be done quickly,” said a Soccer City management spokesman.

The organisers, who say they sold 50,000 tickets by Friday, believe it is the first time national football and rugby teams have played in the same stadium on the same day.

Tickets range between $22 (16.50 euros) and $50 and with the cheapest $18 more expensive than for local football fixtures, there is concern that more affluent rugby supporters may dominate the crowd.

While the Springboks lost two previous Tests at the Soweto ground — to the New Zealand All Blacks in 2010 and 2012 — they are favoured to make it 15 wins in 16 outings against the Pumas.

But there is less optimism about Bafana Bafana, who were outplayed by African champions Nigeria two days ago and lucky to lose only 2-0 in Durban. – AFP