JOHANNESBURG - Rassie Erasmus has done a lot of things right since becoming Springbok coach, but what stands out above everything else is his appointing Siya Kolisi as captain.
The Bok team looks a far stronger unit after just three Tests this season than at the same time a year ago because Erasmus has the players on his side, he’s made better selections than former coach Allister Coetzee did, and he’s empowered several individuals in his team. There is also “feel-good” factor around the side and the overseas-based players who’ve come in have added value and, according to all reports, shared information with the younger men in the squad, who seem thirsty for knowledge.
Springbok rugby is in a happy place right now - and Kolisi being the captain has a lot to do with that. But the move by Erasmus to appoint the now 27-year-old was smart for many more reasons than to back a black player who was already deserving of the position last year. Kolisi, who was playing some of the best rugby of his life a year ago, should really have taken over from the injured Warren Whiteley, but then-coach Coetzee believed Eben Etzebeth was the right man for the job.
Whether that was a right or wrong move is irrelevant; what is important is that Etzebeth became a Test skipper and picked up plenty of experience and down the line the Boks can only benefit because of it. And that is why Kolisi’s appointment now - with Etzebeth and Whiteley both out injured - was the obvious and right move, as he, too, will learn and grow and understand Test rugby better because he’s captained at the top level. Also, Erasmus got it right by naming a different team leader for the trip to Washington for the one-off Test against Wales; his choice being Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Going forward to the World Cup, and beyond, the Boks will now have at least four men who can lead the team on any given day, or through a series or competition, which can only be advantageous to the side. And let’s be realistic, having all four of these men, plus, say, a Duane Vermeulen, in a Bok starting team all of a sudden screams leadership, strength, power.
Also, as has happened with Whiteley and Etzebeth missing out this June, the Boks may lose leaders in the build up to the World Cup - in fact it’s likely to happen - but with the current captaincy situation that sort of setback will hardly be felt. There will be someone else to step up and take charge.
And, with Kolisi and Du Toit having played a lot of rugby this year already there could well be a case for them sitting out some of the Rugby Championship games later on, or even skipping the November tour - to freshen up and give Erasmus a chance to see others in action and the likes of Whiteley or Etzebeth lead the side. Rotating players, including captains, in the coming months until the World Cup will be crucial as the Boks build capacity and experience.
Right now Kolisi is the main man, and he may be the right man to lead the side at the World Cup next year, but in between he will need a break and that is when Whiteley, Etzebeth and Du Toit will come to the fore. Heck, Vermeulen may even lead the side at some stage. The Boks are in a good space right now and while bigger Tests lie ahead - like New Zealand, who are the measure of progress, success and failure - there’s reason to be optimistic about the future. If it’s specifically Kolisi or a fit Whiteley leading the Boks, we know they’ll be in very safe hands.