Zimbabwe: When Springboks World Cup Heroes Rehearsed in Harare

Siya Kolisi and teammates rose from the substitutes' bench in unison, ready to celebrate, as flying winger Cheslin Kolbe showed a clean pair of heels to his diving pursuer -- but not enough wheels in the end to score what would have been a carbon copy of his magnificent solo try nearly three years later to seal World Cup triumph for South Africa.

The lasting image, captured by Harare photographer Lucy Broderick, shows the airborne marker -- Oupa Mohojé -- missing the tackle and going to ground.

What a pity, still photography can only do so much in telling the whole story, but those that were there that afternoon will remember how Kolbe delightfully dummied his way past defenders before bursting through the line -- reminiscent of his magic against the English in the World Cup final last month -- just that on this particular occasion in Harare three years ago he was stopped dead in his tracks by a brilliant tackle from an opponent coming off the blind side.

It was a superb piece of defence work and, had the Cheetahs player been a split second late, the speedster from Cape Town would have dotted down for a try strikingly similar to the one he scored on November 2 to all but secure the World Cup for South Africa with a 32-12 victory over England in Yokohama, Japan.

While Kolbe did not score that afternoon in Harare, two other Springbok World Cup heroes 33 months later -- Kolisi himself and centre Damian de Allende -- crossed the whitewash at the National Sports Stadium in the Zimbabwean capital city.

January 28 in 2017 was the day and the occasion was a pre-season tour of Zimbabwe by four of South Africa's big five franchise teams, dubbed Old Mutual Super Rugby Weekend and organised by local sports marketing firm Kyros Sports.

Stormers outscored Cheetahs by seven tries to secure a 47-7 victory with Blue Bulls having beaten Lions 38-17 earlier in the day as Zimbabwean rugby fans got a rare opportunity to see some of their favourite Super Rugby stars in flesh.

Kolbe, aged 23 then, had not yet played for the Springboks at the time, debuting only last year away to Australia in the Rugby Championship after he had since moved to French Top 14 club Toulouse.

As for Kolisi, Western Cape giants Stormers named him captain exactly a month after the Harare trip, while the national team followed suit in May 2018 as the flanker became the country's first black captain in the 126-year history of the Springboks.

You would have asked spectators in the National Sports Stadium crowd that afternoon of January 2017 to predict the future of the impressive Stormers loose forward and the answers would not be remotely close to that, in just under three years, Kolisi could become a historic captain for the Springboks -- let alone a world-conquering leader of men.

Thirteen members of the four South African teams on that tour made it into the Boks' triumphant World Cup squad this year, testament to the quality of players--and rugby -- witnessed that day in Harare in 2017.

Both Lions and Cheetahs though did not provide any World Cup squad members from among the squads that travelled to Zimbabwe, with Stormers and Blue Bulls supplying eight and five respectively.

Stormers had Kolisi, Kolbe, de Allende, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe and Damian Willemse. Bulls brought Handré Pollard, Lood de Jager, Trevor Nyakane, Warrick Gelant and Jesse Kriel -- with the later being replaced by Damian Willemse in Japan after picking up a hamstring injury in the opening match against the All Blacks.

So from being the homeland of one of the pillars of South Africa's World Cup success, Zimbabwe also provided a training venue, a platform for 13 others to put up their hands for a battle deservedly won.

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