CAPE TOWN – It was not degrading for Siya Kolisi to be running the water during the Springboks’ triumphant afternoon against Australia last Saturday.
It was not a racist thing and there certainly is no merit to the accusation that Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus “reduced his captain courageous to a waterboy”.
It was testament to Kolisi’s leadership and influence that, despite being unavailable because of injury, the coach wanted his captain to indirectly be influential in the game management.
Legendary All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, on the odd occasion when he didn’t play, also assumed “waterboy” status. Another All Black great, Dan Carter, when he was not in the match-day squad, also ran the kicking tee and did water duty.
We saw current All Blacks captain Kieran Read in a similar role during the Crusaders’ championship-winning season in Super Rugby. Ben Smith, another of the All Blacks veterans, captained the Highlanders in Super Rugby. When Smith was unavailable because of concussion, he also ran the water and the kicking tee.
Warren Whiteley, the captain of the Lions and a former Springbok captain, has also often been seen carrying water. Equally, barking out instructions that come via the coaching box.
Erasmus is to be applauded for insisting that Kolisi be central to the Boks’ match-day action. Kolisi didn’t travel to New Zealand for Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks because of the possibility of getting game time with Western Province this weekend.
Erasmus played down any suggestion that Kolisi would miss the World Cup if he didn’t play a provincial game. The Bok coach told the New Zealand media that it would be ideal for his captain to get some game time before the World Cup but that there was time enough in the pool stages to get his captain ready for the play-offs.
If ever a coach has backed his captain, it is Erasmus in the case of Kolisi. If ever a Springbok coach has committed (with his heart and his mind) to transforming the identity of the Springboks, then it is also Erasmus.
If ever a Bok coach has entrusted red-hot form with selection, then it is Erasmus with Herschel Jantjies.
Give the Bok coach his due, not just for his rugby acumen but for getting it so right when it comes to crushing the stereotypes.
Erasmus picked eight players of colour in his starting XV against Australia and didn’t feel the need to single it out in the build-up to the match. He picked four in his starting XV for Saturday’s match in New Zealand. Equally, he hasn’t felt the need to defend his selection.
Erasmus has done more for transformation with the integrity of his selection of players of colour than all the Springbok coaches combined did since international readmission in 1992. He identified the class in the player and trusted that instinct with selection.
Erasmus recognised the X-factor in (Herschel) Jantjies and provided the playing opportunity. Jantjies responded with a brilliant performance and the reward for the University of Western Cape and Stormers scrumhalf was to be included in the match-day squad to play the All Blacks.
Erasmus, in all my chats to him about transformation, speaks of mindset and not numbers.
The Bok coach has been consistent and transparent with his selections. He has tried to educate supporters with his willingness to explain his selections.
Where he has got it wrong with a selection, he’s fronted and made the change.
But it’s never been - and never will be - a race or cultural thing when it comes to Erasmus.
Giving Kolisi the bib, water bottle and microphone showed the trust he has in wanting his injured captain involved. It was a compliment; never an insult.