“All of our lives are poorer today at the extinguishing of the great beacon of light and hope that led the way for our country through the transition to democracy,” said Oregan Hoskins, president of SARU.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said Mandela had made a huge on impression on his own life.
“My lasting memory of Madiba is that of a person who had enormous ability to bring people together,” said De Villiers.
“His presence at a Test match just lifted the crowd and energised the team – it is actually hard to describe.
“Of course, as a sportsman I am so grateful for him for what he did for our country. He inspired South Africans, who for so long were very divided, to peacefully build a united Rainbow Nation.”
Hoskins said while Mandela had been in poor health for some time, it did not make the news any easier to handle.
“Madiba had a place in all our hearts and his passing is a personal blow to us all.
“The South African Rugby Union shares in our nation’s sadness. Madiba was a great man of vision, determination and integrity who performed a miracle that amazed the world as much as it amazed his fellow countrymen.
“His name will rank among that of the greatest liberators and humanitarians for as long as mankind walks the earth. It was our privilege to have lived in this country during his lifetime.”
SARU highlighted the efforts of Mandela to unite the country through sport, and in particular the 1995 Rugby World Cup which the Springboks won.
“Madiba was a true icon of inspiration and as much as South Africa owes so much to him, so does rugby,” said Hoskins.
“Through his extraordinarily vision, he was able to use the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an instrument to help promote nation building just one year after South Africa’s historic first democratic election.
“The South African Rugby Union also sincerely appreciated the many times he inspired the Springboks to many great heights on the playing field.
“However, Mr Mandela inspired the entire South African nation with his kindness, generosity and ability not only to forgive, but also to understand his fellow citizens.”