A record fourth Rugby World Cup showed South Africa’s dogged determination, which saw the team dig deep at critical moments.
Few sides have had as bruising a route to World Cup success as the Springboks in this tournament, playing against each of the other top six ranked nations on their way to the podium.
That road, culminating in a 12-11 win over traditional foes New Zealand in Saturday’s final at the Stade de France in Paris, but the Boks’ tenacity took them over the line when it counted.
They edged three successive knockout stage matches by a single point to claim the Webb Ellis Cup.
The team talked of a responsibility to provide some distraction for their beleaguered South Africa, which is struggling in an economic downturn with heavy unemployment, crime and corruption.
But while that had its place in motivating success, a full-hearted approach on the field ultimately gave them the edge.
“As a South African, as a Springbok, you always believe you are going to win,” said centre Jesse Kriel.
South Africa threw themselves wholeheartedly into battle, tackling tenaciously and putting their bodies on the line.
Their defence underpinned the victory, while forward power saw to the points, using their strengths to maximum effect to earn penalties that Handre Pollard duly dispatched.
There was also the confidence of being coached by a group who were both innovative and prepared to take risks, such as gambling on a lack of cover for their backs in the final.
Coach Jacques Nienaber admitted a sense of deliverance.
“Relief is the first word that comes to mind,” he said.
“We thought we can’t mess this up because we believed from 2018 they had the ability to win the World Cup. I’m relieved for the players, they deserve it,” he added
South African success was also built on experience. Fourteen of the 23 players who featured in the final were winners in Japan four years earlier. Yet they never looked like a side swaggering with the self-confidence of defending champions and, indeed were not among the pre-tournament favourites for many.
A loss in the pool stage to Ireland exposed vulnerabilities, although once flyhalf Pollard returned to fitness and was called up to the squad they were able to rely on his precision kicking.
Victory over France in the quarter-final spoilt the home party and the Boks left it late to edge England in the semi-final, both times displaying an extra strength of will.
“You don’t have doubts. Winning is a mindset, something we train for and that belief came through again,” Kriel said.