Dubai: When you recall South Africa's historic IRB Rugby World Cup victory in 1995, one name that stands out from that Springbok squad is Chester Williams. The black winger played a pivotal role in helping his country experience their finest moment on a rugby pitch, but will forever be remembered for an achievement far greater- unifying a nation that was still recovering from the wounds of the apartheid era.
The former Western Province star got his opportunity to grace the big stage only after an injury to one of his white teammates in the competition's opening match against Australia. And from that moment on, he never looked back. "I wouldn't say it was difficult. It was just a matter of managing it myself," Williams told XPRESS at the Emirates Airlines Dubai Rugby Sevens. "It was a sensitive time in South Africa and I just had to manage it at the time and make sure that everyone was happy. Our goal was to win the Rugby World Cup. Through that, everything changed afterwards because winning the World Cup unified the country."
Following the triumph on home soil, Nelson Mandela pounced on the opportunity to promote racial harmony in a country where non-white athletes were prohibited from representing the nation till 1992. "We were lucky that we had the support of Nelson Mandela behind us. When he walked into that changing room, it was one of the most amazing feelings that all of us had," Williams recalled.
It is a story which Hollywood hotshot Clint Eastwood found inspiring enough to narrate to audiences around the world in his 2009 drama film ‘Invictus' starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. "For us, it was a great opportunity to showcase to the world what South Africa is about and what we can give back to the world," said Williams. "Working with people like Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon was a great honour. They were very very professional when it came to doing their job and so laidback when the job was finished."
Williams also clarified claims he had made in his controversial 2002 autobiography titled ‘Chester' where he revealed he was shunned and even called racist names by some of his 1995 Springbok teammates.
"When we were together as a team, the team-spirit was good. We partied together, we had fun together, we stuck by one another," he said. "Those other things happened while we were playing against one another in the Currie Cup or domestic competitions. But that's in the past now. We have all moved on and everybody's happy."
Goal attained for Noble Chester
Fifteen years on from helping South Africa win their first Webb Ellis Cup, Williams continues to humbly serve his country with the same passion. At the Dubai Sevens, the 40-year-old played coach to a Goal Attained select team which reached the semi-finals of the International Open competition despite stringing together a squad at the last minute.
But more than the result, it was the cause for turning up at The Sevens that mattered more to Williams who said funds raised from their participation would go to the Chester Williams Foundation which looks after the well being of under-privileged children back in South Africa. Williams said the team which enjoyed support from UAE based landscaping company Green Vision are looking to compete in at least four to five tournaments in the annual HSBC Sevens World Series.