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BY DENZIL PINTO
DOHA: World Cup winning captain Francois Pienaar said he is ‘proud’ on the impact the South African rugby team had on the ‘Rainbow Nation’ when the hosts clinched the Webb Ellis trophy in 1995.
Speaking to The Peninsula at Doha Goals yesterday, the South African, who has not watched the World Cup victory to date, remembers the time vividly.
“Those memories are very clear. It was much bigger then what we ever thought it would be and the positive effect it had on the country. Those memories will stay with me forever,” Pienaar, 45, said while recalling the memories of the 1995 World Cup.
“In the space of six weeks, we (the South African team) were united. A very diverse country that was hurting and angry (due to political reasons) became calm and were in a mood for celebration when the Cup was won,” he added.
“I’m very proud to have been part of that,” smiled the South African, who won all of his 29 international caps as captain.
South Africa, seeded ninth for the World Cup, were not expected to mount a serious challenge in the competition. Pienaar believes that the seeding meant little and the victory over New Zealand was more special, as the hosts were the underdogs.
“Being underdogs, winning was special. We believed in ourselves and had a very good side. We were a side that learnt a lot. In the domestic side of the game, we had a lot of success. So we knew going into the World Cup that if we do things right during the competition we can win the World Cup,” said the 6ft 3inch star. When asked how it felt to lift the Webb Ellis trophy, he replied: “Every time a Cup is lifted, I know what that captain feels like. It is the most unbelievable feeling.”
Pienaar added: “When somebody wins the World Cup, it’s the most amazing platform to be on and it’s a team sport, so all the hard work goes behind the scenes. It is difficult to explain and express with all the human effort that goes into playing rugby.
Speaking of ‘Invictus’, a sports drama film starring Hollywood legends Matt Damon as Pienaar and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, the retired flanker has mixed opinions.
“There are certain things I really like about the movie, and some I don’t like about it. I think the rugby scenes were awful and did not do rugby any justice.
Asked whether it was strange watching the film, he replied: “Yes, it’s weird watching you portrayed by one of the greatest actors (Damon) in Hollywood, and trying to recreate what happened in South Africa.”
Yet the South African, admits there were some emotitonal scenes in Clint Eastwood’s film.
He said: “It’s a healing movie, there are certain scenes that I just want to cry when I watch it and there are other scenes that I want to cringe.”
Reflecting on his 11-year playing career, he highlights the World Cup win as the biggest achievement, but is also proud of guiding English side Saracens to the Pilkington Cup in 1998.
“I look back at my stint as player-coach for Saracens, and winning the Pilkington Cup for the first time. I’ve been very blessed to have so many achievements especially the World Cup and the effect it had on South Africa,” he said.THE PENINSULA