Springboks / 21 September 2019, 11:28am / Mike Greenaway
DURBAN – I am not a great believer in superstition or semantics but sometimes you have to look at the writing on the historical wall and believe, even if it is only for once, that something magical can be written in the stars.
Too many times in the history of our planet have those celestial beings lined up to provide a quirk of fate, and I have this fuzzy feeling that the Milky Way has cast her diamonds on the Rugby World Cup landscape, and they have fallen just perfectly for the Springboks in Japan.
And, more specifically, they are aligned ideally for a young man from a township in the Eastern Cape, a humble Siya Kolisi that was born in humility but destined for greatness.
Think about it this morning as the big World Cup kick-off between South Africa and New Zealand in Yokohama draws tantalisingly nearer: All week we have enjoyed reminders of the Springboks’ previous World Cup triumphs, notably in 1995 when Francois Pienaar and President Nelson Mandela gloriously wore No6 jerseys.
To take nothing away from the accomplishments of John Smit and coach Jake White in 2007, the Boks’ second World Cup final victory, probably the most iconic moment in South African sport was the two Springbok No6 jerseys of the captain and the President together holding aloft the Webb Ellis Cup on a perfect winter’s afternoon in Johannesburg, just 13 months after Madiba was inaugurated.
Well the portents of a repeat of that great providence lie before us in 2019. That famous defeat of the All Blacks at Ellis Park was 12 years ago. Consider this: After ‘95, it took 12 years for the Boks to again lift the Webb Ellis Cup (Smit’s heroes in 2007), and it is now 12 years since the Boks won in Paris, and, the captain of the Springboks is once more a No6 flanker in Siya Kolisi.
What are the chances of Kolisi captaining the Boks to their third World Cup win? Extremely good given the Boks’ form under coach Rassie Erasmus this year.
And it is not just the form of the Boks. There is also the fact that Kolisi is proving to be a magnificent unifying force in South Africa, more so than Pienaar in ’95, and much more along the lines of Mandela that year.
The fact that Kolisi will line up against All Blacks captain Keiran Read this morning adds to the lustre of a Springbok script written in heaven.
There has been grave concern that Kolisi would not make the World Cup because of a knee injury picked up late in Super Rugby but he recovered and played in the Boks’ friendly against the Pumas in Pretoria, their last action before proceeding to Japan.
It is a massive boost for the Boks and it is worth repeating the words of the respected former Springbok centre and Sharks coach, Brendan Venter, on how much Kolisi means to the Boks.
“In the mould of Bok captains Gary Teichmann and John Smit, Siya boasts the ability to glue the team together and unite players from different franchises and cultures,” said Venter. “The fact that he was so nearly lost to the Boks for this World Cup and then restored at the last minute is hugely significant.”
Opposite Kolisi is the gnarled veteran Read, also a loose forward. The Crusaders captain has held aloft the Super Rugby Trophy on more occasions that he can probably count and his country is praying that the 33-year-old can pick up were Richie McCaw left off in 2015 and claim the Webb Ellis Cup for the All Blacks in what would we be a record third win in a row.
Interestingly, former All Blacks scrumhalf Justin Marshall said this week that Read and other experienced All Blacks will be the difference between New Zealand and the challengers.
“I think the answer to the question of how to play at a World Cup comes down to leadership - in terms of making the right choices in game situations: When to keep it tight, when to cut loose.
“The All Blacks have a spine of players that have been to the World Cup coal face before and are not going to be daunted when the big moments arise. Kieran will instinctively know when to take three or kick to the corner because he has been there before.
“A big problem for the rest of the world is that for 12 years, only the All Blacks have got to a final and won it. That is a long time,” Marshall added.
Okay, but that is hardly Marshall Law, and the rugby gods have a subtle knack of spicing up the World Cup just when it is becoming too predictable. Too much of one thing is not a good thing.
The All Blacks’ World Cup has runneth over after triumphs in 2011 and 2015. It is time for change, it is time for a new hero as the rugby world expands. It is South Africa and Siya Kolisi’s time in the Land of the Rising Sun.
A foot note for the superstitious - the number 12 is a supremely fortuitous number for the Boks. It happens to be No6 times two.