The Springboks have been celebrating as 2019 Rugby World Champions for well over four months now, and there was another accolade on Monday night in Berlin as they were crowned Team of the Year at the 2020 Laureus World Sports Awards .
Led by skipper Siya Kolisi and new head coach Jacques Nienaber, the Boks in Berlin also included retired hooker Schalk Brits, loose forward Francois Louw, World Cup final hero Cheslin Kolbe and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk .
De Klerk’s long blonde hair and naughty smile combine to make him one of the more easily recognisable of the 2019 Springboks, and on the five-day long trophy tour that followed the side’s return from Japan, he was clearly one of the most popular players among fans.
Ever since he celebrated in his South African flag underwear in the immediate aftermath of the November 2 final, De Klerk has been greeted by teenage girl-like screams everywhere he has gone in South Africa.
That wasn’t always the case and it is easy to forget that, throughout the group stages of the World Cup and then into the quarter-finals and semi-finals, De Klerk was the subject of much criticism from supporters back home.
With the Boks basing their gameplan around clinical and physical defence, an accurate kicking game and a dominant set piece, territory was key to their cause and as a result De Klerk kicked a lot from the base.
While that didn’t always make for the most entertaining rugby, it was a strategy that suited the bruising Boks perfectly.
De Klerk, though, came in for heat while fullback Willie le Roux’s struggles in the air were also being heavily criticised in South Africa.
He looked back during those times with a smile on his face.
“It’s difficult, but I knew I was doing the right thing for the team and the coaches were happy with the way I was playing,” De Klerk said.
“It’s not nice to have people thinking you’re not playing well, but in our team environment if something comes out about someone, it goes straight on the (WhatsApp) group and everybody sees it.
“We have a laugh about it and I think that’s the best way of going about it. We were tagged ‘drop it en skop it’ … it’s funny.”
The message from coach Rassie Erasmus, De Klerk added, was to embrace the fact that South African supporters were engaging with the Boks.
“The thing we love about South Africa is how passionate people are. If they comment, then at least they’re watching and that’s the important thing,” he said.
“We knew that we were doing the right thing and that the normal rugby guy wouldn’t understand because we wanted to see just running rugby and scoring tries and we did that in the final.
“If we watch rugby we also comment and chat at braais. It’s just in us … we’re a passionate country and we love to speak about the Springboks.”