THE driving rain and cold failed to dent the spirits of 46000 rugby fans who packed into the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday for the third and final test between England and the Springboks.
It was a day of jubilation as the thousands of spectators sang happy birthday to Madiba, but also one of mixed emotions as the Springboks played to a disappointing 14-14 draw with England.
Yet for fans spoken to after the game, the test match remained a special experience and the city’s hosting of the event received an unreserved thumbs-up.
Visitors from England also gave the Bay the nod as they celebrated partial success from their team’s “South African safari”.
Robert and Susan Blake, who travelled for the final game of the series, rated the experience highly.
“We live in Hereford and came out for just this game and are very pleased with the result,” Robert said.
Susan added: “The experience in PE has been stunning. The people here are so lovely. Obviously, we have been outnumbered but everyone has made us feel so welcome.”
Another England fan, Andy White from Reading, was disappointed that England came so close but could not quite clinch a victory.
“The game was OK, a little bit disappointing because I think we could have done a bit better,” White said.
“The experience, though, has been amazing. Being in the minority is a bit hard but it’s been fantastic.”
For Bok fans, the test match atmosphere was special, even if the result was not.
“I really, really enjoyed it. I think the result was a good reflection of the game for England,” Sheryl Luden, of Grahamstown, said.
“South Africa should have won, but England played well. But the experience was amazing. I loved it.”
For Marie van Wyk, of Mossel Bay, the rugby was overshadowed by the national unity such events create.
“Well, it was not really a good match, but when I was standing outside this afternoon, just the thought that rugby was uniting the nation was absolutely unbelievable,” Van Wyk said.
Bay fan Keith Naidoo was one of the few home fans who were reasonably happy with the outcome.
“The test was good enough,” Naidoo said. “Obviously, we wanted a 3-0 win but that was good enough. But the experience was great. It was great to have a test in PE.”
Apart from the national anthem, the packed stadium sang a happy birthday tribute to former president Nelson Mandela, who turns 94 on July 18.
With Johannesburg deejay Jeremy Mansfield leading the way, thousands joined in the song at halftime.
Uitenhage Bok hero Jacques Potgieter decided to celebrate his debut by partying at Walmer’s Balizza nightspot, making his appearance at the club just after 2am yesterday to the sound of cheers from fans.
Potgieter was accompanied by English centre Manu Tuilagi. Additional reporting by Tremaine van Aardt