The heroic Springboks are arriving in batches back from Japan on Tuesday and can expect a tellingly warm welcome from the general public.

This momentous, third World Cup triumph was indeed based on South Africa’s shrewd use of a squad system, meaning roles were clearly defined and all of the players knew exactly where they stood.

Various prominent heroes emerged from the campaign with the likes of Cheslin Kolbe, Damian de Allende, Handre Pollard, Makazole Mapimpi, Lood de Jager and Pieter-Steph du Toit lighting up the tournament.

But a team is only as good its unsung, even underappreciated heroes.

And there were plenty of them in this Springbok squad.

We hail five of them.


Five unsung Springbok heroes from Japan_1

Siya Kolisi of South Africa passes as Anthony Watson of England looks on during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Final between England and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on November 02, 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The Boks’ inspirational skipper’s leadership abilities are never in doubt, but some observers were concerned about his match fitness going into the tournament.

Coach Rassie Erasmus had managed his comeback from a knee injury in Super Rugby and looked decidedly off the pace in the opener against the All Blacks, substituted after a mere 50 minutes.

That led to a slight change of plan, with the 27-year-old included on the bench for the match against Namibia.

That 30-minute cameo revitalised him as he attacked with vigour and regain his confidence.

From thereon, Kolisi was supremely consistent, tackling like a man possessed and vitally cleaning rucks like a bulldozer, culminating in a magnificent final, where he made 13 tackles and missed none.


Five unsung Springbok heroes from Japan_2

Schalk Brits of South Africa is tackled by Tjiuee Uanivi (R) and Max Katijenko of Namibia during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between South Africa and Namibia at City of Toyota Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Toyota, Aichi, Japan. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

In a campaign where the Boks were so ominously focused, the 38-year-old “grandpa” of the squad made sure everyone kept a smile on their face.

The veteran hooker knew he was probably only going to play in the two games against the so-called lightweights in Namibia and Canada.

Picked as a No 8 against the neighbours, Brits produced an outstanding showing on attack and kept a lid on the oppositions spoiling tactics.

Back at hooker for Canada, he was again superb all-round, but the his biggest contribution was simply never losing his appetite for hard work, even if it was only on the training field.


Once he addressed the few difficulties he experienced against the All Blacks, the gifted but underappreciated midfielder continually showed his worth.

Am is one of defensive organisers in the team, a man with the ability to read patterns with consummate ease.

However, his sublime touches – such his no-look pass to Mapimpi for the vital try in the final – stood out, not only because it contributed to the Boks’ attack, but also because it dispelled the doubts over his versatility.

Am can and, actually, always has been a playmaker too. Allied with his poaching ability, he’s surely shwon that he’s a complete international centre now.


Five unsung Springbok heroes from Japan_3

Frans Malherbe of South Africa scores his team’s tenth try during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between South Africa and Canada at Kobe Misaki Stadium on October 08, 2019 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

South African rugby fans are spoiled in terms of having the thrill of watching fleet-footed and versatile props.

It’s little wonder then that the Stormers stalwart struggles to receive his due.

Malherbe is in the old-school mould, a burly enforcer who smashes opponents in the scrum and willingly runs all over the park NOT to be a link on attack, but to tackle and clean relentlessly.

Props aren’t supposed to be fashionable and the 28-year-old certainly isn’t.

That makes him great.


Five unsung Springbok heroes from Japan_4

Franco Mostert of South Africa catches the ball during a line out during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group B game between South Africa and Canada at Kobe Misaki Stadium on October 08, 2019 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Regarded as Erasmus’ first-choice No 5 going into the tournament, the former Lions star experienced the relative rotten luck of seeing Lood de Jager play so well against Namibia that he simply couldn’t be dropped again.

But the ever-willing Mostert embraced his role as part of the Boks’ “bomb squad”, seamlessly filling in at either lock or flank with his customary energy.

Much like Kolisi, his crowning moments came in the final, where he delivered an outstanding showing in ironically being De Jager’s injury-enforced replacement.

His poaching of an English lineout ball said much for his understated class.

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