CAPE TOWN – “South African rugby has been waiting for 24 years post-isolation for the first black captain to run out, and hopefully it inspires and allows people to overcome a lot of adversity they may be facing on many fronts in South Africa at the moment.”
That was the view of record Springbok try-scorer Bryan Habana on his “mate” Siya Kolisi leading the country against England at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Coach Rassie Erasmus will name his team later on Thursday, and Kolisi will be announced as the man who will lead the team out on to the lush turf at 5pm on Saturday, and become the first black African to lead the Boks at Test level – a huge breakthrough for transformation in South African sport as a whole, let alone rugby.
Rugby has lagged behind soccer and cricket in making the sport one in which players of all races receive equal opportunities on the field, and coaches, administrators and other officials off it.
So, Erasmus’ selection of Kolisi as captain is one that should be celebrated, as it is the real step forward that transformation in rugby needed.
The now-retired Habana knows the 26-year-old loose forward well from their Stormers and Bok days, and says the man behind the bright smile will prove to be an inspired choice.
“I think Siya running out in front of that team on Saturday is an unbelievably pivotal moment in South African rugby history. Being the first black player to do so – despite Chiliboy Ralepelle actually being the first unofficial (skipper) back in 2006 – but a monumental moment for South African rugby, in terms of the unique history we have,” Habana told BBC Radio 5 Live’s ‘Rugby Union Weekly’ programme.
“For Siya, from where he’s come from, his humble beginnings, to work unbelievably hard to get to this moment, I think it’s absolutely fantastic. I don’t think I can be more proud for someone I can call a mate now. And I sort of texted him when the news broke last week and just telling him how important this current moment in time is.
“When I first saw this young kid from the Eastern Cape at the Stormers, you had this youngster who was just so eager to overcome what he had to overcome. He was raised by his grandmother in the townships in the Eastern Cape, and had to overcome quite a few difficulties.
“He’s got an immense amount of zest for life; he’s one of the most enjoyable people to be around, and what he’s done well is to let his rugby speak for itself. He’s not the guy who will shout or swear to get things going, but lets his actions do the talking.”
And while Peter de Villiers and Allister Coetzee were two black Bok coaches, Habana feels that having a black captain would prove to be even more significant in terms of the bigger South African picture.
“Yes, without a doubt. What Siya’s been able to do is to show himself as a true South African – the way he speaks, the way he comes across. He’s an inspiration not just for black players or people, but for all the people of South Africa,” said Habana, who scored 67 Test tries, the second-highest tally in world rugby.
“He overcomes quite a few racial boundaries, which I think is absolutely fantastic for the game. Without a doubt, it is a pivotal moment. South African rugby has been waiting for 24 years post-isolation for the first black captain to run out, and hopefully it inspires and allows people overcome a lot of adversity they may be facing on many fronts in South Africa at the moment.
“I can’t wait to get my Springbok jumper over my head on Saturday and sing the national anthem with pride as Siya becomes that moment in history in South African rugby.”