The Springbok captain for the Rugby World Cup, Siya Kolisi, is starting in Saturday’s Test against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld.
But he won’t be the skipper. Instead, veteran hooker Schalk Brits has been handed the armband just five weeks before the Boks take on the All Blacks in Yokohama.
Why Kolisi won’t be leading the team out at Loftus and making the calls on the field is not entirely clear.
Erasmus tried to sell the concept to the media in Pretoria on Wednesday by stating that Kolisi might not even complete the first half, due to him only returning to the pitch last week for WP.
But why shouldn’t he captain the Boks for the time he is on the field?
Then the coach said that it was about getting Kolisi “medically strong” and asking him to “empty his tank and go as hard for as long as he can”.
But all of those reasons still do not justify why the Springbok captain won’t be leading the team on Saturday.
To make matters even worse in this scenario, Erasmus confirmed that the WP loose forward would be the skipper for the Rugby World Cup.
That makes Brits’ appointment even more puzzling. This is no slight on the smiling hooker. The 38-year-old is a likeable guy, and his positive energy has ostensibly been a boon for the Boks behind the scenes.
But it has been exactly that – off the field. It shouldn’t result in him suddenly being made the Springbok captain, even for just one game.
The vice-captain for the Argentina Test is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who has 34 Test caps to Brits’ 12. Sure, caps aren’t always the decisive factor in choosing a captain, but Jantjies has been a more important figure on the field for the Boks than Brits over the last few years.
But the fact remains that Kolisi should’ve been named as the leader on Wednesday. Testing his readiness for the World Cup should not only be about his actual physical play, but also his ability to make the right calls as the skipper under pressure.
Even more importantly, the Bok captaincy is not something that can just be dished out easily. It’s supposed to be an honour that is highly cherished for a South African, as it is something that doesn’t happen to many rugby players.
Also, not putting Kolisi in charge on Saturday has drawn stinging criticism from the black rugby fraternity and supporters on social media.
Erasmus’ decision reignites the nagging feeling in those quarters that Duane Vermeulen – who has led the Boks in Kolisi’s absence recently – is the ‘chosen one’ in reality.
That is surely not the case. Erasmus was wise to dispel such doubts on Wednesday by declaring that the 28-year-old Kolisi will be the World Cup skipper.
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But the coach lost some of the goodwill that he gained across the rugby spectrum for making Kolisi the captain in the first place, and giving more game time in recent weeks to the likes of Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane and Herschel Jantjies, by asking Brits to call the shots against Los Pumas.
Erasmus knows – and has said so strongly, to his credit – that he is fully aware about the transformation targets and policies of his employers, the SA Rugby Union. And he has come a long way in addressing some of the shortcomings of 2018 in that regard in 2019.
But it was insensitive to not make Kolisi the captain for Saturday. Erasmus has got a lot right this year, but this time, he dropped the ball…@ashfakmohamed