Rugby is the second most popular South African sport (after soccer), the most successful, and the most controversial.
The national rugby team is the Springboks, or Boks for short.
Rugby was introduced to South Africa by British colonists in the Cape around 1875, quickly becoming popular among the Boer (Afrikaner) population. The Western Province Rugby Football Union was formed 1883, and in 1891 the South African side played its first international match against the touring British Isles side.
By the First World War, New Zealand and South Africa had established themselves as rugby's two greatest powers. The team that toured Europe in 1951–52 was considered amongst the finest Springbok sides: out of 31 matched, they suffered only one loss.
From the sixties, Springboks’ international matches were met with strong anti-apartheid protests. Some tours were cancelled as inappropriate. In an attempt to stave off the growing isolationism, the South African government allowed the Boks to play the foreign teams who had non-white players, merged the segregated South African rugby unions in 1977, and had the first non-white South African player represent his country in an international match in 1981. Even though some rugby teams continued to sporadically tour South Africa, the Boks could not participate in the 1987 and 1991 World Cups. The isolation of Springboks ended only in 1992, when they were readmitted to international rugby following the abolishment of the apartheid legal apparatus in South Africa.
The hosting of 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa was the first chance for the whole previously segregated country to unite behind the national team, in the sport that has been viewed as the very personification of apartheid.
The Springboks went on to win the 1995 Cup, to the delight of all of South Africans, across the racial divined. However, the love-hate relationship of South Africans with their national rugby team continued, with controversies usually cantering around issues.
The team managed to get to the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup, but the next few years were marked by a decline and the South African side was easily defeated in the quarter finals of the 2003 World Cup.
The team recovered to claim the 2004 Tri Nations title and to win the 2007 World Cup – again to the delight of all the races living in South Africa. That victory probably motivated the South African government’s decision to abandon racial quotes for sports.
At the end of 2009, the Springboks are ranked number one in the International Rugby Board World Rankings. They were named 2008 Team of the Year at the prestigious Laureus World Sports Awards. The Springboks are the holders of every major trophy available to them: the World Cup, the Tri-Nations Championship, Nelson Mandela Plate, Freedom Cup and British Lions Series Winners.
The most important rugby stadiums in South Africa are:
- Newlands, Cape Town
- Danie Craven Stadium, Stellenbosch
- Ellis Park, Johannesburg
- Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
- Springbokpark, Bloemfontein
- Kingspark, Durban
- Telkom Park, Port Elizabeth