x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The country came together for rugby at Ellis Park Stadium

The hallowed ground are often packed for Springbok matches since 1995, the year of their World Cup triumph which marked a paradigm shift from the apartheid regime.

The pitch at Ellis Park Stadium, which was used for the 2010 World Cup in addition to regular rugby Test matches.
The pitch at Ellis Park Stadium, which was used for the 2010 World Cup in addition to regular rugby Test matches.

JOHANNESBURG // It was 1995 and South Africa had just emerged from the isolation of apartheid. But the country was still racked with self-doubt, with many whites fearing what the future might bring. Against the odds, after having been excluded from international competition for decades, the national side reached for the final of the rugby union World Cup at Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium, where they faced the might of New Zealand's All Blacks.

The score was tied 9-9 after 80 minutes, but a drop goal in extra time by Joel Stransky sealed a 15-12 victory for the Springboks - and sparked multiracial celebration. Nelson Mandela, installed the previous year as the country's first democratic president, donned a Springboks jersey for the event - a direct appeal for reconciliation, as the national rugby side had long been seen as a symbol of the apartheid regime; many blacks instantly supported any side the Springboks lined up against.

The match, and the events surrounding it, were the subject of a book, Playing the Enemy, by John Carlin, a British journalist, and now a Clint Eastwood-directed film, Invictus. In his book, Carlin describes an Afrikaner weeping and saying, "That's my president, that's my president," as Mandela presented Francois Pienaar, the South Africa captain, with the Webb Ellis trophy. South Africans of all colours partied together long and hard afterwards.

As the scene of the event, Ellis Park, which has a capacity of around 60,000 and was refurbished for this year's football World Cup, when it hosted seven matches, remains hallowed ground. The stadium is usually packed for international rugby Test matches, but it is no longer the hotbed for club rugby it once was. Ellis Park is the home of the Golden Lions, who last season became the worst team in the history of the Super 14, the southern hemisphere's top club rugby union competition, losing all of their games.

Their few remaining diehard supporters are often outnumbered by away fans whenever they play other South African sides. The atmosphere is substantially more intense when it is used for football, primarily by the Orlando Pirates, a Soweto club. The stadium also was the scene of South Africa's most deadly football tragedy. In 2001, 43 people were killed in a stampede during a Pirates-Kaizer Chiefs derby.

3. Stade 20 Mai, Congo: The place where the Rumble in the Jungle marked one of the major boxing eras. 4. South Morocco mountains: Site of the annual Marathon des Sables, six days of marathon-length running. Considered the world's toughest footrace. 5. Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town, South Africa: Nestled below Table Mountain and considered one of the most beautiful grounds in the world. 6. Le Lac Rose, Dakar, Senegal: The historic finishing point for the punishing Paris-Dakar Rally, which in recent years has been in South America. 7. Kip Keino Stadium, Eldoret, Kenya: Debut ground for many of the great distance runners. Named after Kenya's first Olympic champion of renown. 8. Cairo International Stadium: Home to both Al Ahly and Zamalek, historically giants of African club football. Also site of Egypt national team matches.