• By : Peter Martin
Rugby fever erupted throughout South Africa during the 2019 World Cup held in Japan and Eastern Cape Springbok rugby players and coaches came to the fore during the Cup final played against England on 2 November. The heroes on the field were wing Makazole Mapimpi and centre Lukhanyo Am, who combined in the second half in a kick-ahead try when Mapimpi dotted down. Amazingly it was the first try ever scored by a Springbok player in a final – the two other wins in 1995 and 2007 came from kicks – and their combination sealed what eventually became a brilliant 32-12 victory against a strong England squad, allowing the Boks to bring home the Webb Ellis World Cup trophy. The speedy Mapimpi hails from the small village of Tsholomnqa outside East London where he was feted by the villagers after his success. He was born in Mdantsane and was educated at Jim Mvabasa Senior Secondary School in King William’s Town. Mapimpi finished the 2019 tournament with six tries, second only to Josh Adams of Wales, who scored seven. In an interview after his arrival back in South Africa, Mapimpi said: “This means so much to me as someone coming from the rural area in the Eastern Cape. I didn’t play Craven Week or SA Schools. Fortunately I had people who pushed me and suggested that I could be more.” He added that he was pleased to be a role model for so many youngsters. Am, a solidly built 1,86m tall player weighing 93kg, was born in King William’s Town and was educated at De Vos Malan High School. He has represented the Border Bulldogs, the Falcons, the Southern Kings and the Sharks, making his debut for the Springboks in 2017. Coach Johan “Rassie” Erasmus was born in 1972 in Despatch, near Uitenhage and was educated at the Despatch High School and later the University of the Free State. He represented the Springboks from 1997 to 2001 in 36 Tests as a loose-forward, mainly as a flank. Erasmus took over as the coach of the Boks in 2018 and after a patchy start he guided them to the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship and then to world champions in 2019. He will now continue as Director of Rugby at SARU. Mzwandile Stick, 35, is a former captain of the SA Sevens team, and has been the assistant coach of the Springboks since 2016, concentrating on the back-line in particular. For Erasmus and Stick it was a tough road to the top and South Africa currently holds the number one position in world rugby, which will really only be challenged again in 2023.