Francois Pienaar, with twenty nine international caps to his name, has already reached the highest peak in rugby union – he captained his country South Africa, to 1995 World Cup victory on home turf and was presented the Webb Ellis Trophy by President Nelson Mandela. In winning rugby’s ultimate prize, Francois not only helped put South Africa back on the sporting map but also, having been named Newsmaker of the Year, he is his country’s most celebrated icon after Nelson Mandela.
Indeed, the two men forged a friendship during the World Cup when Mandela appeared on the presentation rostrum wearing a Springbok jersey with Francois’s number on the back.
Francois was appointed captain on his first international appearance, against France in 1993 and is now the most capped South African captain and is now the most capped South African and arguably by the world’s most popular one. Alongside Francois’s playing talents, his deft management skills, charisma and leadership abilities have enabled him to achieve God-like status in a country where rugby is a religion. He has proved himself and inspirational leader and is one of the few men who can genuinely claim to have united South Africa behind a common cause.
Francois’s skills in diplomacy were a clear feature in South Africa’s passage from isolation to acclamation on the world rugby stage. A trained lawyer, Francois is an eloquent and articulate spokesman who is often quoted on a wide range of issues, from rugby to business and from journalism to politics.
In the last few years, Francois has won many prestigious awards for his services to South African and international rugby:
1993: Named as world rugby’s Captain of the Year by the Australian International Rugby Review, compiled by Who’s Who.
1994: Voted International Player of the Year by Rugby World magazine.
1995: Voted Rugby Personality of the Year by Britain’s Rugby Union Writer’s Club, comprising of 200 of the top British sports journalists.
Having played a vital role for both his province and his country, Francois then enjoyed a new challenge on the English club scene at Saracens. Worldwide, he continues to reinforce his reputation as the face of South African rugby. His charisma, leadership and strength of character place him much in demand to speak and to play the game he loves with a passion all over the world.
Away from rugby, Pienaar published an autobiography, Rainbow Warrior (1999), and regularly speaks on leadership, motivation and teamwork. He has also been consistently involved in charity work with organisations such as Sargent Cancer Care for Children at the Royal Marsden Hospital, CHOC (The Children's Haematology and Oncology Clinic) and the Reach for a Dream Foundation. In November 2000, the University of Hertfordshire awarded him an honorary doctorate.
In 2002, he returned to South Africa and he currently lives in Cape Town with his wife and two sons, one of whom has Nelson Mandela for a godfather.