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South Africans' Blood 'Runs Gold-Flecked Green' Ahead of Rugby World Cup Final

From South African President Thabo Mbeki to children playing on the streets of Soweto, South Africans are once again united in support of the national rugby team, the Springboks, ahead of their World Cup final match against England in France on Saturday. VOA's Delia Robertson sets the scene for the encounter.

The Springboks, perhaps more than anyone else, claim elder statesman Nelson Mandela as a team supporter. The players, and most other South Africans, believe he is the team's personal talisman after he was credited with imbuing the Springboks with a special magic ahead of their historic 1995 Rugby World Cup win.

Unable to attend this year's final, Mr. Mandela visited the team at their French base at the start of their World Cup campaign; and, this week sent them his best wishes on DVD.

"We know that our boys have the ability, strength and determination to be victorious once more," he said. "We are a winning nation."

South Africa is colored in the official Springbok colors, green and gold, from taxis and buildings festooned with the team and national flags to individuals wearing official team shirts.

What is more, says former Sport Minister and rugby enthusiast Nconde Balfour, green now flows in South African veins.

"Wow, amaBokoBoko, Bokkie," said Balfour. "My blood is green, my bloed is groen [the same in Afrikaans]."

Even the formally-attired President Thabo Mbeki donned a Springbok shirt and cap as he boarded his official plane en-route to France to personally bring the country's best wishes to the team.

"I am quite certain that our team will do what the nation expects, and I want to go and convey the message to them that indeed the whole country is united behind them, that all South Africans genuinely say, 'bring the cup home.' And on Saturday all of us will be watching," he said.

And Mr. Mbeki may be right. There is hardly a bar or eatery in the country that has not provided a large TV and appropriate food for their rugby-mad patrons. One provincial government has hired a local sports stadium and is inviting citizens to come and watch the game on giant screens.

The Springboks are thus far unbeaten in their World Cup campaign, and boast both the tournament's highest point-scorer, fullback Percy Montgomery with 93 points; and, the highest try-scorer, wing and supporters' darling, Bryan Habana.

The team is widely seen as the favorite to take home the coveted Webb Ellis Cup. But, but at the pre-match briefing, Springbok coach Jake White endeavored to shift attention from the favorite tag, saying that even though his charges beat the English team 36-nil in the opening rounds, England has more World Cup experience in their side.

"I think you have got to be fair and say that a lot of these English players have won a world cup away from home [in 2003]. --- I think you have just got to look around this room to see how big this World Cup final is and when you get to a final how big the stage is; and to have all those guys who have been there and won a World Cup, I am sure it's a huge advantage," said White.

Few South Africans who watched the Springboks ignominious quarter-final departure from the 2003 World Cup dared to dream their team would be playing in the 2007 final.

Team captain John Smit, says it has taken a lot of hard work.

"We started off from absolutely nowhere after the World Cup in 2003 and here we stand four years later," said Smit. "We have gone through some real highs and some real lows, but standing here with an opportunity to play in the World Cup final and having a chance of perhaps winning it."

But South Africans, having seen defeat in the past, are keen to keep their hopes within realistic bounds and have turned to humor to relieve the tension. Jokes, humorous mobile phone messages, Internet videos and songs are rapidly circulating throughout the population.