Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and captain John Smit admitted to being overwhelmed by the Fans’ Farewell to the Springbok team on Thursday.
More than 36,000 supporters crammed into Sandton on a sunny Johannesburg afternoon to say goodbye to the 30-man squad and management before they departed to New Zealand on Thursday evening.
Browse iol.co.za’s slideshow of the Fans’ Farewell here
The Springboks spent 90 minutes taking the short walk from Nelson Mandela Square to the Sandton Gautrain Station, before travelling with schoolchildren, prize winners and VIP guests to OR Tambo International Airport.
Tens of thousands of fans lined the route and crammed into Sandton in unprecedented scenes for a team departure from South Africa.
Bok-befok! 36 000 fans crammed into Sandton Square (Pic: Springboks on FaceBook)
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers said the squad has been stunned by the reception 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.”
John Smit said he and the players were blown away by the reception.
“I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the players to all the people and celebrities who came out to say goodbye to us,” said Smit. “We’re just sorry that there may have been people who might not have been able to see the players because of the size of the crowd.
“But this was the culmination to an amazing few weeks – starting with the week we had in Port Elizabeth. Wherever we have gone people have been calling out, shaking hands, blowing their car horns and we’ve taken incredible energy from that.
“This squad places a lot of expectation on itself but it’s obvious that South Africa doesn’t just hope that we win this World Cup – they need us to win it.”
The Springboks departed at 20h55 on QF 64 and arrive in New Zealand at one minute to midnight on Friday night (New Zealand time).
The team begins their Rugby World Cup campaign against Wales in Wellington on September 11.
A satellite send-off took place at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town