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Francois Pienaar led the Springboks, South Africa’s rugby team, to victory in the 1995 World Cup, helping Nelson Mandela unite South Africa.
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Francois Pienaar played in an extended game despite an injury to his calf muscle. The Springboks were ahead 9-6 at halftime, but New Zealand evened the score at 9-all in the second half and the score remained unchanged at match end forcing the game into extra time. Both teams scored in the first half of extra time, but South Africa finally scored a drop goal to with the final 15 to 12. In what has become one of the most iconic moments in sport, Nelson Mandela,
wearing a Springbok rugby jersey with Pienaar's number, presented the William Webb Ellis Cup to the South African team captain Pienaar to the delight of the 65,000 capacity crowd.
During the aftermath of the victory, Francois Pienaar's charisma and leadership abilities propelled him to international recognition for his playing talents and God-like status in his home country where rugby is considered a religion. He proved himself to be an inspirational leader and one of the men who could claim to have helped unite South Africa behind a common cause. But oddly enough in 1996, Pienaar was dropped from the team by Springbok coach Andre Markgaaff, allegedly for feigning an injury during a match. The controversial decision was also complicated by Markgraaff's later dismissal as coach after a recording of him making racial remarks was uncovered. Pienaar was subsequently offered a spot back on the team, but he refused and never played for South Africa again.
Francois Pienaar left for England to become a player-coach for Watford's Saracens rugby club. Under his leadership the Saracens won the Tetley's Bitter Cup (Anglo-Welsh Cup) in 1998 and came in second during the Guinness Premiership, the top division in the English rugby system. During the next two seasons, the Saracens came in second and forth in the standings qualifying for the European Cup both times. In 2000, Pienaar retired as a player to become the Saracens' CEO and remained as coach. Due to the team's lack of success in the subsequent two years, Pienaar believed it was best if he stepped down as CEO and coach in 2002. That same year, he returned to South Africa.
Francois Pienaar now lives in South Africa with this wife, Nerine Winter, and two sons, one of whom has Nelson Mandela as a godfather. He has co-authored an autobiography, Rainbow Warrior, with Edward Griffiths and serves as color commentator for ITV Sport during the Rugby World Cup. He is active in charity work with Sargent Cancer Care for Children and the Reach for a Dream Foundation in South Africa. In November, 2000 Pienaar was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Hertfordshire in Great Britain.
Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela are the subject of a 2008 book by author John Carlin entitled, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation that spotlights the 1995 Rugby Union World Cup during post-apartheid South Africa. The film rights were bought by American actor Morgan Freeman for the 2009 film Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar.
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