The film is based on the book Playing the Enemy: Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin. The filmmakers met with Carlin for a week in his Barcelona home, discussing how to transform the book into a screenplay. Filming began in March 2009 in Cape Town. Primary filming in South Africa was completed in May 2009.
Morgan Freeman was the first actor to be cast, as Mandela. Matt Damon was then cast as team captain François, despite being significantly smaller than him and much smaller than members of the current Springbok squad. He was given intensive coaching by Chester Williams, another star of the 1995 team, at the Gardens Rugby League Club. "In terms of stature and stars, this certainly is one of the biggest films ever to be made in South Africa," said Laurence Mitchell, the head of the Cape Film Commission. On March 18, 2009, Scott Eastwood was cast as flyhalf Joel Stransky (whose drop goal provided the Springboks' winning margin in the 1995 final). Over Christmas 2008, auditions had taken place in London to try to find a well-known British actor to play Pienaar's father, but in March it was decided to cast a lesser-known South African actor instead. Zak Fe'aunati, who had previously played professionally for Bath, was cast as Jonah Lomu, while Grant L. Roberts was cast as Ruben Kruger, who was the Springboks' other starting flanker in 1995. Chester Williams was also involved with the project to teach rugby to those of the cast playing players who had not played it before, while Freeman and Williams also became involved with the ESPN 30 For 30 film The 16th Man. Filming of the final also took place on location at Ellis Park Stadium, the actual venue for the 1995 final.
'Suzie' was not a character in the film and there was no reference to the health issues in the New Zealand squad.