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South African Rugby Springboks Return to Rapturous Welcome Following World Cup Victory


South Africa's rugby world-champion, the Springboks, have returned home to a rapturous welcome following their victory over England at the Rugby World Cup in France. VOA's Delia Robertson reports from Johannesburg.

The victorious Springboks were led into the concourse at Johannesburg's OR Tambo airport by their captain, John Smit. The players appeared thunderstruck at the enthusiasm of thousands of supporters who flocked to the airport to greet them.

"Yeah we expected it to be pretty busy, but what we walked into was far beyond anything we had ever even imagined," Smit said. "And having come back together, seeing all the energy, the people going crazy, and how much they appreciate what has been done, it makes everything just so much more special."

Rugby continues to be a white-dominated sport, and the 30-man World Cup squad has just six players of color. Only two of those were in the starting 15 throughout the tournament. Even so, the team's World Cup campaign ignited support from all sectors of the population, and has had a unifying effect reminiscent of when the trophy was won on home soil in 1995.

But the clamor for national teams to more closely reflect the country's demographic break-out is growing louder, and this has not been lost on Springbok coach Jake White. He said few countries are granted the opportunity twice to rectify past wrongs.

"And challenge is, it is up to us now, is whatever mistakes we made from 1995 to 2007, and whatever we feel they are and whatever people around feel they are, we get another opportunity to make sure those mistakes do not happen again. And I think that is the challenge that lies ahead not only for South African rugby, but for South Africa as a country as well," White said.

Some South Africans believe that coach White has not done enough to bring black players onto the national team and have long called for him to be replaced. But, speaking on a national radio program, President Thabo Mbeki said these calls are inappropriate.

"My own view would indeed be that it would be odd at this moment of victory that comes after this long period of preparation," he said, " that we say thank you for your services, goodbye. Why do we do that?"

The celebration continues at least until the end of next week. After a short break with their families, the team tours South Africa beginning on Friday. The players will be celebrated with ticker-tape parades and lavish receptions in most major centers.

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