Wholeness – the Springboks’ secret superpower

The proudest moment…. PIC: SA RUGBY


That’s how the Springbok rugby team have often been described, for their win in the 2023 Rugby World Cup. After all, they did indeed squeak or sneak through by just one point, in three successive finals: the quarters, the semis and the final.

A single point winning margin, in three do-or-die games.

But it’s humbly submitted, here, that they had a rare superpower, which was their real source of strength:


This is where I found my clues:

In the stunning five-part series about the Boks’ third World Cup victory in 2019, it wasn’t long before the first F-Bomb dropped, and then continued throughout.

I checked the credits, and found the series was a collaboration between SuperSport AND Springbok rugby. OK … so the Springboks corporate leadership would surely have had some editorial control.

And yet the owners of this family-brand had refused to edit out certain language?

Something profoundly interesting was going down. And I think this was it: The Springboks were redefining what is “acceptable”, and not – led by their Culture Leader, Rassie Erasmus.

Who was saying something like: Using certain “unacceptable” swear-words is actually pretty unimportant. What’s REALLY unacceptable to is refusing to genuinely transform this sport.

Rassie was tacitly asking forgiveness for his F-Bombs. And in exchange, he delivered elusive, painfully-sought dignity for the beloved sport of rugby in South Africa.

By tackling a long list of awkward, painful, shameful, enraging issues, with extraordinary truthfulness, courage and transparency.

What’s really “unacceptable”, he seemed to be saying, is letting these intractable issues fester. Like transformation, quotas, talent, development, diversity.

He cracked open these scarred tough nuts with extraordinary bravery, openness and vulnerability.

There’s a horrible equation that says: “Half times a half equals a quarter.” It’s true, mathematically – and that’s precisely how our open wounds have historically debilitated us.

By contrast, with exemplary servant leadership, Rassie finally enabled SA rugby to deal with its darkness, and emerge into lightness, to become whole.

The F-Bombs weren’t “unacceptable”. They were a signature of this new team’s profound culture of authenticity, as whole, rich, imperfect humans, together.

“Diverse people unite” only means anything, when each diverse individual is given the space to be their full self.

Fast-forward to the 2023 Rugby World Cup, and another clue emerged, when Siya Kolisi reported that players’ families were allowed at their hotels.

And even before big games, there’d be kids charging around the place, like they would at home. Creating a delightfully authentic environment.

For players who are whole – as spouses, Dads, sons, friends, open, vulnerable, real people.

In all three epic battles of RWC 2023, the Springboks found themselves neck-in-neck, the scores near-tied, blow-after-blow, as the clocks ticked down.

Both teams were giving their absolute all. Fuel tanks depleted, all-round.

But every time, the Boks found something extra, to carry them over the line.

Did they draw upon traditional strengths, like their coaches’, captain’s or team-mates’ words? Or did they play for their love of God and country?

For some players, quite possibly. But for others, could their extra drop of fuel have come from completely personal places?

The memory of a late parent’s sacrifices?

The belief in them, by a childhood teacher, during traumatic years past?

Or the whisper in their ear by a child on their knee, the night before?

In the legendary film Chariots of Fire, sprinter Eric Liddell asks: “But where does the power from?”

The answer, for these Springbok teams, must, surely have been: From a different and unique place, in the case of every individual player.

With a mega-powerful common denominator: Every player had their wholeness to harness, in the search for that tiny, elusive bit more.

All the teams, in all those tight matches, gave 100%.

But the Springboks found their extra 1% more, when it mattered most, because:

They could dig the deepest, into the vast expanses, the limitless resources, of their whole selves.

As can we all …