Toulon's Stade Mayol was alive and kicking on Thursday morning for the South African rugby team's training session, which was open to the public. More than 8,000 spectators turned out for the team's decisive quarter-final match against Tonga in Marseille on Sunday.
Among the fans in the sun-drenched stands at Mayol to cheer on the Springboks were more than 4,000 schoolchildren from the Var region. "I'm so happy to be here, it's a change from secondary school. What's more, there's a really cool atmosphere," 13-year-old Noah, a 4th grader at Les Eucalyptus high school in Ollioules, told AFP.
"I hope I can get some players to sign my jersey, especially (Cheslin) Kolbe and (Faf) De Klerk, they're my favorites," he added. Kolbe, a former RCT winger, received the loudest applause as he entered the pitch, ahead of two other ex-Varois players, Duane Vermeulen and Eben Etzebeth, who were also warmly applauded.
"When the teacher told us we were coming, I was really happy because I play rugby and I'm a real fan. It's so much more impressive to see them in real life, it makes me want to be just like them. I can't wait to tell my friends about it," said nine-year-old Alexis, who attends the Zunino 1 school in La Garde.
The South African world champions had already organized a public training session on September 14, which attracted some 7,000 spectators.
The Springboks took advantage of this last crowd bathing in the Var before heading for Marseille on Saturday, where they will play their last match of the group phase the following day against Tonga. If they win, they will then have a few days' rest before a possible reunion with the French team in the quarter-finals on Sunday October 15.