PRETORIA: When news came of Springbok captain Warren Whiteley being ruled out of the third and final Test against France at Ellis Park on Saturday, the first thought that came to mind was "Siya Kolisi".
Kolisi made sense as the man to take over the reins from Whiteley, and more than his capabilities as a player, it would have been a watershed moment for rugby in the Springboks having their first black captain.

But it wasn’t to be, and Eben Etzebeth was the chosen one to lead the side.

I couldn’t help but feel this was a missed opportunity by Springbok coach Allister Coetzee and Saru, and it would have been a decision that many would have hardly disagreed with.

Kolisi has not only been one of the stand out players for the Springboks in the series against France but he paid his dues as captain by leading the Stormers with aplomb in Super Rugby this year.

Kolisi’s elevation to captaincy of the Cape Super Rugby franchise may have come as a surprise, but it was a calculated move by Stormers coach Robbie Fleck that has seen both Kolisi and the Stormers thrive.

Such has been the impact of Kolisi’s captaincy that he was one of the names touted as a possible Springbok captain this year, before Coetzee opted for Whiteley.

It was the players who made the call on Eben Etzebeth taking over as Springbok captain: Photo: Frans Lombard, ANA


There is nothing better than the benefit of hindsight, and after hearing the reasons why Etzebeth captained the Boks on Saturday, I understood - even though I didn’t agree with the decision.

Etzebeth as Bok captain was a decision that was made at least two weeks before the first Test at Loftus Versfeld, and it was a decision made by the players and management, according to Coetzee.

Just to set the record straight, it was the players who made the call on Etzebeth being vice-captain and taking over from Whiteley, and so if there is anyone to blame then it must be the players.

But there shouldn’t be anyone to blame, nor should this be seen as one of South African rugby’s many deliberate decisions to resist transformation.

As much as my heart wanted Siya to lead the team out on Saturday, especially after his heroics in Durban the week before, I believe that when the day comes for the Springboks to have their first black captain it should be a moment worth celebrating and making a noise about.

Had Siya led the Boks on Saturday then he wouldn’t have had his "moment in the sun" in the build-up to the game, as most Bok captains have had in the past.

Siya Kolisi celebrates after scoring against France in Durban recently. Photo: Gavin Barker, EPA


You see when the Boks eventually - it is going to happen in our lifetime - have their first black captain the news must spread far and wide from the opulence of suburban life, to the far-flung rural areas of the Eastern Cape. 

It must not be a story of a man taking over the captaincy at the eleventh hour because of an injury; it must be because the system wants, and needs, to make that change.

The story of the first black Springbok captain is not one that should start and end on social media and through press releases on the day of the Test, but it must also reach the ears of the kids who, like Kolisi, grew up in places where they are told to dream the unreachable dream of becoming a Springbok.

Like many who have come before him - namely Gcobani Bobo, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Oupa Mohoje - who were at some stage spoken off as future Bok captains, Kolisi has already defied the morally bankrupt, archaic and conservative stereotype from the past that black folk can’t play rugby, let alone captain a side.

I believe Kolisi’s opportunity will come, and when the day comes, it won’t be moments prior to kick-off in a Test, but one that will be celebrated and embraced by the team and nation for at least a week before and a lifetime thereafter.

Pretoria News


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