Prince Harry set aside his own England heartache to pay tribute to the "uniting" impact of South Africa's World Cup triumph, a key landmark in post-apartheid reconciliation.

The Duke of Sussex, who had flown to Tokyo for the Rugby World Cup final, was invited into the Springboks' dressing room and embraced players including Siya Kolisi, a key figure who overcame childhood poverty to become the first black South African captain.

Images of Kolisi, 28, lifting the trophy evoked memories of another sporting breakthrough in his country: Nelson Mandela wearing the No 6 jersey of Francois Pienaar when the nation first won the trophy in 1995.

Kolisi, who also wore the No 6 yesterday, was born one day before the repeal of apartheid, to teenage parents in the township of Zwide, just outside Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape. His favourite toy growing up was a brick and his grandmother, who initially raised him, died in his arms when he was 12.

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After the match South African coach Rassie Erasmus paid emotional tribute to the sacrifices made by his captain. "It is easy to talk about going through hard times and struggling to get opportunities but it is tough when there are days when you didn't have food or couldn't go to school or didn't have shoes to wear," he said. "There was a stage when Siya didn't have food to eat and, yes, that is the captain and he led South Africa to hold this cup and that is what Siya is."

Harry, who flew in on his first official trip to Tokyo after sending England's players a picture of his son in an England babygrow, had earlier congratulated Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African President, on his nation's triumph. He said after meeting both sets of players that "tonight was not England's night, but the whole nation is incredibly proud" at the players getting to the final. "Hold your heads high boys, you did an outstanding job and we couldn't have asked more from you," he said on Instagram. "To the whole of South Africa — rugby unites all of us in more ways than we can imagine, and tonight I have no doubt that it will unite all of you. After last month's visit, I can't think of a nation that deserves it more. Well done and enjoy."

Kolisi was visibly emotional after his heroic win in a side which is more representative of South Africa's population than any before. In Johannesburg 24 years ago there was just one black player, Chester Williams, in the starting XV. By the time of South Africa's second World Cup win in 2007, there were two. Of Rassie Erasmus' squad of 31, 11 are black.

Kolisi said he hopes winning the trophy will "inspire every kid" back home, and "pull the country together".

"We had one goal and we have achieved it," he said.

Celebrating with the trophy, Erasmus explained why his players felt under no pressure. "In South Africa it [pressure] is not having a job, having a close relative who is murdered," he said. "Rugby should not create pressure, it should create hope. We have a privilege, not a burden.

"Hope is when you play well and people watch the game and have a nice brai."