Rugby-Mandela lauds S.Africa's Springbok triumph

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JOHANNESBURG, Oct 27 (Reuters) Former South African president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela lauded the Rugby World Cup-winning springboks today for bringing back the William Webb Ellis trophy.

Wearing a team shirt, a beaming Mandela held aloft the cup, flanked by coach Jake White and captain John Smit, after meeting the team at his foundation's offices in Johannesburg.

''All I want to say is that you have put us on the map ...

and we congratulate and thank you for that,'' he said.

Scores of fans braved steady rain outside the foundation's gates waiting to catch a glimpse of the team who will travel the country for a series of ticker-tape parades.

A drive-through in an open-top bus of Soweto, South Africa's largest black township, was marred by bad weather earlier in the day with none of the wild, celebratory scenes seen at visits to Pretoria and Johannesburg yesterday.

Rugby officials were widely criticised for not originally including Soweto in the parade plans, following the massive support shown to the Springboks amongst black people, not traditionally rugby supporters.

The World Cup victory has galvanised South Africans of all races behind the team, similar to the euphoria that followed the 1995 home victory, when Mandela presented the trophy to then captain Francois Pienaar.

Just a year after the country's first democratic elections, the then president wore a replica of Pienaar's jersey in an act of reconciliation that has became one of the enduring images of South African sporting history.

White thanked Mandela for his unwavering backing of the team, particularly for a DVD that helped motivate the players ahead of the final against defending champions England.

The 89-year-old Mandela, who walks with the aid of a stick, joked about greeting the rugby stars seated.

''At my age I have got every part of my body painful, especially the knees,'' he said.

Reuters pds kp1741

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