Mandela tells Francois that when he was invited to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, he was greeted with a song that motivated him. The song was "Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika." "We need inspiration, Francois," Mandela says, "Because in order to build our nation, we must all exceed our own expectations."
Back in the car with his wife, Francois tells her that Mandela "is not like anyone [he's] ever met before." After a moment of silence, he tells her that he thinks Mandela wants the team to win the World Cup.
At home, Mandela's daughter, Zindzi, looks at a headline about Mandela and Francois, and tells her father that Francois looks like one of the policemen who forced them out of their house while he was in jail. "You criticize without understanding," Mandela says, "You seek only to address your own personal feelings. That is selfish thinking, Zindzi." When she gets up, Mandela hands Zindzi a bracelet he found to give to her mother. She hands it back to him.
At Francois' house, we see his maid cutting out the picture of Mandela shaking Francois' hand.
In his office, Mandela meets with a friend who walks him through the qualifications required for the World Cup. The friend tells him that the Springboks team will likely not qualify for the finals, but Mandela is sure that anyone can beat the odds. He tells Mandela that he should attend the opening match between Australia and the Springboks, and the finals. He tells him a billion people will be watching the finals.
We see the Springboks team practicing on the field. The coach thinks that while they might not be the most talented team, they are going to be the fittest. In the workout room, a man tells the Springboks team that they will be conducting coaching clinics in townships all over the country as part of the PR buildup for the World Cup. When the man leaves, the team members complain about the extra work they will have to put in. They ask Francois to advocate for them, and tell the team leaders that they do not have time to do the extra coaching clinics.
Francois tells his teammates that he is not going to talk to the authorities and thinks that they have to take their positions seriously. "Is this you speaking, or Mandela?" one of the players says. Francois denies that he is repeating the president's words, but tells them that with the changing times, they need to change as well.
The team travels to a black township outside of the city. The team members look disparagingly upon the poverty they see. As they emerge from the bus, Francois reminds them that they will have cameras on them the whole time. The children cheer and swarm around Chester, the only black member of the team. He begins to play with them, along with the other rugby players. We see the Springboks players teaching the young boys the rules of rugby, and having a good time.
At Mandela's offices, a man gives a presentation about plastic bags, when Mandela gets word that the Springboks' visit to the township is being covered on television. He changes the channel on the television to the coverage and they all watch footage of the young boys gathering around the rugby players. Mandela's associates look impatient with him as he points out what a beautiful message the footage sends.
The Springboks team flies in a plane with Chester's image on the side of it. Mandela watches coverage of it with his friend, and asks what their chances are of beating Australia. The friend says that Australia is projected to definitely beat South Africa, and that it is important that they defy the expectations and win.
Later, Brenda tells Mandela that the cabinet members are there to brief him on an upcoming trip to Taiwan. He tells her he will be right out, before writing out the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley, the one he told Francois about.
The security team meets to discuss Mandela's attendance at the Australia game. Jason is worried about how exposed Mandela is going to be at the game, and tells the security team that everyone must be exceedingly vigilant.
In the car, Mandela asks Brenda to quiz him on the names of the Springboks players. He suggests that Chester, as the only black player, is all too easy to identify, but that that will soon change.
We see the Springboks team going for a run, then having a meeting after dinner. Francois passes around paper copies of the South African national anthem to learn. Many of the players crumple it up, insisting that it is a song for black South Africans, not Afrikaners. "Flipping terrorist song, man," one of them says, disgusted. Francois is discouraged, and tells them that learning the song is optional, before telling them that the words mean "God Bless Africa."
Mandela goes on Johan de Villiers' interview show. Johan asks him if he's always been a rugby fan, and Mandela says he played rugby when he was a student at Fort Hare. Johan discusses the rumor that Mandela used to root for any team that played against the Springboks, but Mandela simply says, "obviously that is no longer true. I am 100% behind our boys. After all, if I cannot change when circumstances demand it, how can I expect others to?"
Mandela arrives at the Springboks practice field in a helicopter. He emerges and greets the team to wish them luck in person. Everyone is happy to see him and Francois introduces each of the players to Mandela. The president already knows them all by name, and greets them each warmly. When he asks where Chester is, Francois tells Mandela that Chester injured his hamstring and they are trying to keep it quiet. Francois is not sure if he will be out for the entire tournament, and Mandela says that the whole country will miss Chester.
Hennie, one of the players, hands Mandela a hat from the team, and he tells them all that their country supports them completely. As Francois walks Mandela back to the helicopter, Mandela hands him the poem, "Invictus," which he has written down.
That night, Mandela's servant urges him to go to sleep, as the doctor has ordered, but Mandela wants to stay up. Francois' wife visits him in his hotel room and wants to have sex, but he insists that he has to be angry for the game the next day. She looks at the poem that Mandela gave him and he tells her that the poem helps him in the same way her visit does: it serves as inspiration.
The scene shifts to the game the next day. South Africa plays well, as Mandela's security guards keep a watchful eye on the president. They end up winning the game, to triumphant cheering from the crowds.
The film seeks to portray the fact that Mandela's brilliance as a leader is linked to his singleminded vision. This vision is one of a nation that initially lacks a strong sense of unity coming together, against the odds, to exceed its own expectations. He likens this national project to the project of captaining a rugby team when he sits down with Francois and asks him about his tactics as a leader of his team. Mandela is sure that humans can be mobilized to become better than they think they are with the right kind of guidance.
Mandela's attitude of more universal regard for his fellow man is in conflict with the beliefs of his own family members. When his daughter expresses her disappointment in the fact that he is being so diplomatic with white men, Mandela tells her that she is only thinking of her personal feelings, rather than about what is good for her country and others, even going so far as to call her "selfish." In the film's imagination, political critique is a form of selfishness, while Mandela's ethic of universal love, forgiveness, and acceptance is the optimal way forward.
Francois is changed by his meeting with Mandela, and sees his role as captain as an opportunity to motivate his teammates in new ways. When the authorities inform the Springboks players that they will be participating in a number of coaching clinics to help with PR, the players are resistant, but Francois insists that it is good for them to be working so hard in preparation for the World Cup. Having taken Mandela's message to heart—the notion that a good leader can motivate his charges to exceed their own self-image—Francois steps into a more motivational leadership ethic, asking more of his players than he has in the past, in the hopes that they will rise to the challenge.
Francois alternately faces unity and dissension among his teammates. When they visit the small black township, the team members enjoy teaching the young boys of the town how to play rugby, and footage of the coaching session sends the exact message of unity that Mandela and Francois have hoped. However, when Francois asks his teammates to learn the South African national anthem, the white players crumple up the page, insisting that it is not theirs, and that it belongs to "terrorists." While Francois is able to make some headway with his white team members, there are still big blockages to understanding among them.
In spite of the disunity in the country and the team, something about Mandela's efforts and Francois' help seems to charge up the athleticism of the South African team. Even though their chances of beating Australia seemed slim, they end up winning the first game that they play with them. Unity and a sense of belonging is enriching and helpful to the team in that it instills in them a sense that they can rely on one another.