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'For once, the whole country is behind the team, just like in 1995'

By Ian Evans

Walking around central Cape Town yesterday, it seemed every second person was wearing the green and gold of the Springboks.

In the near 30C heat, rugby shirts, caps even scarves were on display in the biggest outpouring of patriotic fever since the Boks last reached the World Cup final in 1995. Motorists were besieged at major junctions by roadside salesmen with replica kits, giant green and gold flags, Bok baby bibs, T-shirts and, of course, rugby balls.

White drivers who would normally wave away offers of mobile phone plugs, wire baskets and cala lilies, actually wound down windows and bought items – no questions asked.

Elsewhere, newspaper salesmen held the Cape Times aloft with its headline "Bring the cup home, Bokke" beneath pictures of fans with South African flags painted on their faces and a photo of coach Jake White and captain John Smit.

Shop and office workers were allowed to wear national colours, which engendered a friendlier feel on streets where pedestrians are usually more worried about muggings. One dairy company in Gauteng coloured its milk green, while the Steers restaurant chain dished up luminous green burgers. Jack Lemqus, a sporting goods store, had queues from early morning. Manager Dereck Vercueil said: "For once, the country is behind the team. This is like 1995 all over again."

Schoolchildren were encouraged to wear all things Springbok, although English pupils at one international school had the audacity to turn up in white rugby shirts with a red rose.

Jody Louw, a teacher, said: "I was surprised how many English tops there were. It was all very colourful – but the Boks are still going to win."

South African College Schools also adopted the green and gold and held a special day in honour of old boy Percy Montgomery, South Africa's blond full-back.

However, it was not only white people embracing the Boks: blacks and mixed-race Cape coloureds such as Bryn Williams were equally enthusiastic.

"We are behind the Boks," he said. "They are our team and we want them to win."

Not surprisingly, politicians were happy to be associated with the side. As he flew out to Paris, the President, Thabo Mbeki, said he would wear a Boks jersey and cap and he was sure the side "would bring home the cup".

His predecessor Nelson Mandela added: "We know our boys have the ability, strength and determination to be victorious because we are a winning nation."

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