Springbok captain Jean de Villiers stole the show as his team received a roaring welcome to the Rugby World Cup in their coastal hamlet base of Eastbourne on Sunday.
With Bok fever gripping the small holiday town, not even the inclement weather could stop the Boks from being welcomed with open arms by the local community as hundreds of fans found their way to the Winter Theatre in the pouring rain to see the Green and Gold close up.
More than a hundred fans were left stranded when the venue reached capacity with around 600 inside cheering and giving the Boks a standing applause welcome.
But it was De Villiers, master statesman and ambassador that he is, that had the crowd baying for more as he opened by turning his back on the audience to take a crowd selfie, encouraging them to participate in the background and gave a fabulous speech to underline his worth to the team off the field.
“I’m one of the oldest guys in the team, not the oldest,” De Villiers joked as he started his speech, “And I’m not that into social media, but I just thought for the sake of this event – I see a lot of flashes and cameras – maybe we can get one selfie together. I’m going to stand on stage here and you go wild.”
The moment was greeted with cheers, applause and some catcalls as the local community embraced De Villiers’s antics in the spirit they were intended.
De Villiers said the photo would be a hit on “Bryan Habana’s Instagram” and then continued to joke about his teammates, including a few barbs at vice-captain Victor Matfield’s age.
Set in the Winter Gardens Theatre – the second venue after the Eastbourne Bandstand was drenched in rain – De Villiers enjoyed the brief history lesson of the Theatre being built in 1870 and used it to his advantage.
“It’s always a great event to be at a Rugby World Cup and some of us have been working towards this our whole lives, but it is important to congratulate those who are at their debut World Cup tournament,” De Villiers said.
“It’s also a very special occasion for Schalk (Burger) and Victor (Matfield) making their fourth appearances at a World Cup. What is even more remarkable is that Victor was at the opening of the theatre back in 1870 and he said to me it was great to finally get back here.”
De Villiers then turned to the coastal resort town, saying Eastbourne was “the sunniest place in the UK” as the rain drenched down outside.
“It has a staggering average of 36.4 hours of sunshine a week. That is really fantastic. It is a pity we missed out on one of those hours today,” he added to roars of laughter from the big crowd.
De Villiers did also have a serious message, telling the crowd that “to us playing for the Springboks is so much more than rugby, we know the responsibility that goes with it. Playing on a platform like the World Cup is about building our nation, unifying us as a people.”
De Villiers also spoke about how they want to leave a lasting impression of a side that interacted with the community they were in and thanked the throngs of supporters for coming out.
The Springboks will have their first training session on English soil on Monday afternoon at Eastbourne College. The team to face Japan at the Brighton Community Stadium will be named on Wednesday.