From Zwide to Yokohama - the story of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi
YOKOHAMA – Siya Kolisi will rightly be a very proud man when he leads out the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup final.
The last time they were in a final he was watching in Zwide township in Port Elizabeth.
It is 12 years since South Africa became a country united by a Rugby World Cup final.
One of the millions of fans watching them defeat England in Paris was Kolisi, a 16-year-old who had to head for the local tavern because there was no television at home in the township of Zwide.
Fast forward to 2019 and the Springbok captain Kolisi is proving to be the beacon of hope that his nation has been crying out for.
In the aftermath of the Boks’ dramatic 19-16 semifinal victory over Wales on Sunday, it would have been easy to forget just how remarkable it is that Kolisi will be leading his country in the Rugby World Cup final against England on Saturday.
“You don't dream about that where I am from,” he said.
The former Springbok winger Bryan Habana is emphatic about how important Kolisi, South Africa's first black captain, can be in bringing the 'Rainbow Nation' closer together once more.
Should he lead his team to victory on Saturday, said Habana, it would have a similar impact to Nelson Mandela's famous appearance at Rugby World Cup 1995.
“If South Africa go on and win with Siya Kolisi as the captain, it will be absolutely monumental,” said Habana before the tournament started. “For us as a country to have that inspiration, for 70 percent of our population to have that example, would be immensely important, on a par with Mandela in ’95 if not greater. It would be historic.”
The Springboks' opponents back in October 2007 were, as now, England.
“I was watching it in a tavern, because I didn’t have a TV at home,” said Kolisi. “I know what it did for us back then. I have never seen people come together over sport (like that).”
Kolisi “never dreamed of being a rugby player” as a child and now says the sport was “my way out”.
He was brought up by his paternal grandmother, and was more worried about whether he was going to eat on any given day.
But after trying rugby for the first time aged seven he soon excelled and he left township rugby behind when he was awarded a bursary at top Port Elizabeth school Grey High.
His roots are still in Zwide, though.
In an interview in the Japanese media before the Rugby World Cup he said, “It’s tough to stay on the right path because sometimes hunger makes you do things that you never thought you would do.
“Some of my friends would steal and some passed away because they got into bad things.”
Kolisi played for local club African Bombers when he was free from school rugby duties.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus gave Kolisi his first professional contract when he was 18.
“I've known him for a while. He has coached a lot of the guys from different (provincial) unions, so he knows us and has had to pull us together. We had to buy into his plan, and he has made it clear that the Springboks are the most important thing.
“In the past, we tried to build ourselves by our social media, and all those kinds of things. He just brought us back down to earth, and told us ‘You have to play well first, and everything else will come’.
“It’s awesome to see it come together.”
The 28-year-old Kolisi, who will earn his 50th Test cap in the final, has endeared himself to South Africa’s rugby fan-base with his interaction on social media.
He was at it again when he took a video in the changing room after the semifinal, surrounded by his teammates, to express his gratitude for all the support from back home.
African News Agency (ANA)