The 1995 Rugby World Cup was won by South Africa under seemingly formidable odds.
One thing that had gone in its favor, however, was home advantage, the country being the host of what was arguably the most important tournament in the sport pitting burly, giant men against equally burly, giant men from legendary teams, among them Australia’s Wallabies and New Zealand’s All Blacks.
Another was that the championships were being held under a post-apartheid South Africa, which was undergoing the birth pains of the transition to democracy.
But white supremacy was still evident, at least as shown by the national rugby team that was predominantly white, save for one or two token black players.
And the team was fragmented, not by racial prejudices from the white members of the team but more by the inferiority of the South African squad when ranged against, say, Tonga, Western Samoa, Ivory Coast and Japan.
Worse, the supposed star of the Springboks was not even sure if he would be able to recover from injury and eventually join the team in time for the kick-off.
One influential South African sports commentator had written off the country’s Springboks (they were named after the South African gazelle), saying they won’t get past Romania, Canada and England with whom it had been bracketed.
Well, the local boys won their group and made their way to the top of the podium on June 24 more than 24 years ago, beating the All Blacks, 15-12, in Johannesburg, with France landing third.
Presumably, the Springboks possessed a lucky charm, who had crossed the color, economic, political and social divide to inspire his fellow South Africans–players, fans and ordinary citizens alike–to rally behind the squad.
This guy led by example.
He invited the Springboks captain to his official residence to show his determination to unite the new South Africa through rugby, visited the players at their training camp to cheer them up and sent them to still-impoverished parts of South Africa where the blacks lived and where football — not rugby — was, and still is, king.
His inspiration himself?
The poem Invictus, by the English poet William Ernest Henley who wrote it in 1875 (it was published in 1888), is known by the famous last 14 words: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
The man who inspired not only the Springboks to the pinnacle of their sport but also the world with his “unconquerable” and “undefeated” spirit with the help of the Henley poem while he was imprisoned on Robben Island?
Now that the 30th Southeast Asian Games is just more than three months away, the Philippine national rugby team, as well as the other squads to be fielded by the country, which is hosting the biennial competition, needs all the luck it can possibly get to be able to do a Springboks.
Would a local Mandela be able to rise to the occasion and who could that person possibly be?