The Rugby Championship - South Africa v Argentina
Springboks vow to prevail for Mandela
August 17, 2013
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer lays flower during the launch of the Nelson Mandela Sports Day, Sandton Convention Centre, Johannsburg, July 4, 2013
Nelson Mandela will provide added inspiration for the Springboks' Rugby Championship opener © Getty Images

South Africa will have an outline image of Nelson Mandela on the sleeve of their shirts when they tackle Argentina in the Rugby Championship on Saturday.

A Springboks spokesman said a logo that included the image would be worn by each player, and captain Jean de Villiers vowed his team would triumph to "make Madiba smile". Most South Africans call Mandela, a long-time political prisoner who in 1994 became the first democratically elected president of the republic, by his clan name Madiba.

"We are ready to play for Madiba and to bring a smile to his face by defeating Argentina," centre De Villiers, 32, said after a warm-up session at the match venue. "Every game you play for the Springboks is special and if you add to that playing for Madiba as well, then suddenly the occasion just becomes massive. This is an occasion to celebrate the life of a fantastic man and of a person who has given so much to rugby, to sport, and to the country."

It is the first time an outline image of a person will appear on the green and gold shirt, which traditionally carries a sponsor logo, the national sport emblem, and a leaping Springbok.

The match is part of a historic day of sport at the 94,000-seat Soccer City stadium in Soweto that also features a friendly match between the national football team and Burkina Faso. Branded the 'Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day', the event includes a football match between former South African and Italian stars and a music concert.

International icon Mandela turned 95 during July in a Pretoria hospital, where he has spent more than two months after being admitted for a recurring lung infection. The latest official bulletin on his condition said Mandela remained "critically ill", but doctors added that the former president "is making a slow but steady improvement".

While president, Mandela had a huge influence on rugby and football, inspiring the Springboks to win the 1995 World Cup and Bafana Bafana (The Boys) to win the Africa Cup of Nations a year later.

A government brainchild, the Sport Day stages two football matches before the pitch markings are changed and the goals give way to posts during a 90-minute pre-Test break.

"We have practiced the changes several times and are confident they will be done quickly," a Soccer City management spokesman said. The organisers, who say they sold 50,000 tickets by Friday, believe it is the first time national football and rugby teams have played in the same stadium on the same day.


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