Photo by David Rodgers/Getty Images for World Rugby
World Rugby spoke to the eight captains who have lifted the Webb Ellis Cup. The Springboks’ Francois Pienaar, John Smit and Siya Kolisi are three South Africans amongst an elite group of eight men who have experienced the ultimate joy of lifting rugby’s prize on behalf of their teammates.
Having been there and experienced the ultimate high the sport can deliver those individuals will know exactly what emotions the next captain will be going through at France 2023 when he stands there, with the widest of smiles, holding the most coveted prize in sport aloft.
Francois Pienaar (1995)
With all the expectation that comes as Rugby World Cup hosts, Francois Pienaar’s overriding memory as he collected the trophy from then-President Nelson Mandela was similar to that of relief.
“You know there is so much at stake," said Pienaar. "The tension was unique because you either end that week as a world champion or not. The enduring memory is a feeling of absolute relief. In a Rugby World Cup final, you don’t care how you do it or who does it, you don’t care about the margin, you just want to be ahead on the scoreboard after 80 minutes. When you look up and see that, and you know nobody can take that from you, it is the most wonderful feeling.
There was also immense pride at what the 15-12 extra-time victory over the All Blacks had done in uniting his country. “It was insane, incredible ... not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the impact it would have on our country," he said.
John Smit (2007)
The first and only hooker to captain his side to Rugby World Cup success, Smit literally led from the front as South Africa won the tournament for a second time with a 15-6 win over England in Paris. For him, though, it was truly a team effort.
"We have had the responsibility of carrying the hopes of a nation on our shoulders, and now we have a team that is taking the trophy back home to the nation," said Smit. "Dreams come true. To be able to win a World Cup, I think I'll only realise the significance in a couple of days' time."
“It's hard to let it sink in. I'm proud of every single one of the guys. There's going to be a lot of stories told as we get older, but no-one can take it away from this group. They're tough men and I think the whole country should be very proud of every single one of them.”
Siya Kolisi (2019)
In a heartfelt interview after South Africa’s 32-12 win over England in Yokohama, Kolisi expressed how much winning the tournament meant to the country as a whole.
“I am just grateful for everything the team has been through, we have faced a lot of challenges," said Kolisi. "But the people of South Africa have got behind us, and we are so grateful to them. We have so many problems in our country but with a team like this – we come from different backgrounds and different races – we came together with one goal.
“I really hope we have done that for South Africa, to show that we can pull together if we want and achieve something. Since I have been alive, I have never seen South Africa like this.”