Dream turns to reality for Mapimpi and South Africa

Winger from a township in the rural Eastern Cape becomes first South African to score a try in a World Cup final

 Faf de Klerk, Mazakole Mapimpi and Tendai Mtawarira celebrate after the Rugby World Cup final win over England at International Stadium Yokohama in Tokyo, Japan. Photograph:  Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Faf de Klerk, Mazakole Mapimpi and Tendai Mtawarira celebrate after the Rugby World Cup final win over England at International Stadium Yokohama in Tokyo, Japan. Photograph: Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images/Getty Images

 

South Africa 32 England 12

Entering the last 15 minutes of South Africa’s third final, it seemed the Boks were set to complete a third World Cup triumph in inimitable style. Whereupon all changed, changed utterly.

Having won each of their previous finals with five three-pointers, they led 18-12 and akin to the 1995 and 2007 final, this victory was set to be described as primarily a celebration of their scrummaging dominance, all-enveloping defence, Handre Pollard’s goal-kicking and scoreboard pressure.

Then, after 225 minutes without scoring a try in three finals, Willie le Roux took another fine high catch from Ben Youngs’ box kick. It is understood that Le Roux assured Rassie Erasmus he would have his best game of the tournament against players he was familiar with from the Premiership, and he was true to his word.

From the moment the ball was recycled, it was on, albeit after passes from Faf de Klerk and Lukhanyo Am, the key was the quick transfer by Malcolm Marz to release Makazole Mapimpi up the left touchline. His deft chip over Elliot Daly was regathered and both skilfully and unselfishly transferred by Am to give Mapimpi a simple touchdown.

That, in tandem with an ensuing trademark goosestep and side step by Cheslin Kolbe, provided a fitting final flourish.

Siya Kilisi’s remarkable story has, to a degree, somewhat overshadowed the even more unlikely rugby journey undertaken by Mapimpi. From a township in the rural Eastern Cape, it is non-rugby territory and Mapimpi is the first and only player in his family to play the game.

“It’s a very special story to tell about Makazole,” said the Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick during the tournament. “As a youngster, he would walk 10km a day to school. It’s a nice story to tell to youngsters that, irrespective of your background, if you work really hard and your opportunity comes, you need to be ready.”

Even three years ago, Mapimpi was playing club rugby with Boland and only began to gain attention with the Cheetahs in the Pro14, scoring one of 10 tries in 13 appearances on his debut away to Ulster in September 2017.

Noted for normally saying very little, his speech was almost a whisper in the mixed zone after the final when he recounted his journey, and his emotions moved the small cluster of journalists around him who strained to hear his every word, which was almost impossible.

Rural area

“This means a lot for me because I’m coming from a long way. I’m blessed. I’m from a rural area, I didn’t make the SA schools teams. I went into the good hands of a coach. He always motivated me. I’m always asking ‘what can I do?’ But I had good people around me to motivate me and give me advice. For me, it’s been a long, long, long, long journey. But I think God is good. I’ve been working hard.

“This is a big achievement for me. It’s my first World Cup. It means a lot, not for me, but for the boys from the rural area, for the boys who didn’t go to private school. I feel like it’s not about me, it’s not just for me to play rugby, it’s not just for me.

“I remember five years back, I was playing Sunday-league rugby, at a club. There’s no professional league in the rural areas and one of my friends told me ‘listen, you can make it man’. I told the guy ‘listen, how can I make it man? There’s no one here for me. There’s no-one watching me.’ The guy said ‘just keep going. You can make it’.

Makazole Mapimpi of South Africa breaks through to score his team’s first try during the Rugby World Cup final victory over England at the International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Makazole Mapimpi of South Africa breaks through to score his team’s first try during the Rugby World Cup final victory over England at the International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

“For me it was funny, because I was too far from the system first of all. Then I got a call from a team, then I played in Cape Town, Stellenbosch and then I got a call from Border and afterwards I played for Border in 2014, 2015. I saw a lot of guys I was playing against went to Super Rugby so I told myself one day I can make it because I’m playing against those guys. I was playing in Currie Cup, Currie First Division. I told myself ‘I can make this happen’. I got a call from the Southern Kings and then it started for me.”

Stick describes him as the most improved player in the squad after radically improving his aerial skills, he beat Elliot Daly twice to high balls on Saturday, and afterwards Mapimpi could understand what Erasmus meant when he talked about the pressure of growing up in South Africa compared to the pressure of playing for the Springboks.

“It is a lot of pressure but for me I think I’m blessed. I’ve seen a lot of things happen and I know I think about some things that affect us in South Africa. I’ve seen a lot of things happen, things I don’t like.

“There’s a lot of pressure, we want things for South Africa, we fight for that, for our country, I think it’s true for all of us. There’s a lot of things bad in South Africa that affect all of us Springboks; girls get raped, there’s murders. I felt those things and this achievement is for the team. We worked hard for our country.”

Scoring sequence: 11 mins Pollard pen 3-0; 23 mins Farrell pen 3-3; 26 mins Pollard pen 6-3; 35 mins Farrell pen 6-6; 39 mins Pollard pen 9-6; 40 (+3 mins) Pollard pen 12-6; (half-time 12-6); 46 mins Pollard pen 15-6; 52 mins Farrell pen 15-9; 58 mins Pollard pen 18-9; 60 mins Farrell pen 18-12; 66 mins Mapimpi try, Pollard con 25-12; 74 mins Kolbe try, Pollard con 32-12.

SOUTH AFRICA: Willie Le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Tendai Mtawarira, Mbongeni Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Duane Vermeulen. Replacements: Malcolm Marx for Mbonambi (23 mins), Franco Mostert for de Jager (23 mins), Steven Kitshoff for Mtawarira, Vincent Koch for Malherbe (both 44 mins), RG Snyman for Etzebeth (60 mins), Francois Louw for Kolisi (64 mins), Frans Steyn for le Roux (68 mins), Herschel Jantjies for de Klerk (78 mins).

ENGLAND: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (captain); Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola. Replacements: Dan Cole for Sinckler (3 mins), George Kruis for Lawes (half-time), Joe Marler for M Vunipola (46 mins), Henry Slade for Ford (50 mins), Luke Cowan-Dickie for George, Mark Wilson for Underhill (both 60 mins), Jonathan Joseph for May (70 mins), Ben Spencer for Youngs (76 mins).

Referee: Jerome Garces (France).

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