Sevens emotional tribute to the Madiba
irbsevens.com and James Mortimer 16 Dec 2013 Getty Images
Those of us in South Africa over the past week knew that we were witnessing at first hand a hugely significant passage of time, but the scale of it has perhaps only dawned on us since arriving home.
Nelson Mandela's sad passing left the nation of South Africa mourning his death and celebrating his life almost in equal measure.
As vistors, we felt blessed to be there during such a sad yet significant moment in history, especially in Port Elizabeth so near to Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where it was announced he will be laid to rest.
Sport was played all around the world last weekend and everywhere moments of silence were observed in honour of Mandela, and yet only one event was played in a South African stadium bearing his name - the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium - and Rugby was lucky enough to be there.
In 1995 Mandela found a way of unifying a nation through the Springboks and the Rugby World Cup in South Africa, and 18 years on rugby was handed the opportunity to pay immediate tribute.
With a mixture of sadness, respect and pride all 16 international teams in Port Elizabeth for the Sevens stood as one for the South African National anthem and then a minute's silence - a special moment.
On day two 'Mandiba magic' was once again in the air amid echoes of that World Cup in 1995. South Africa, once again inspired by Mandela, beat the favourites New Zealand by three points. The hosts' impeccable, inspirational and blond-haired captain, wearing the number six jersey as had Francois Pienaar, raised the Cup aloft. A unified crowd rose in response. Few could argue that this was the perfect result.
It was a wonderful moment to be immersed in, and yet it wasn't until arriving back into the UK that our unique proximity to events really hit home. World leaders were being interviewed on every news channel and intelligent people were speculating about how South Africans might be feeling, and responding.
We had been there hours before. We had been fortunate enough to stand in Mandela's stadium among those people. As we checked out of our rooms in the hotel that catered for the 16 teams, staff were busily readying themselves to make the short trip to a sister hotel where they would welcome ministers, foreign and domestic, arriving to pay their respects.
South African broadcaster Gavin Cowley likened rugby's tribute on day one to a state funeral. While we will not be there when the great man is laid to rest, it certainly feels like we were all lucky enough to say a personal goodbye.
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