To say Siya Kolisi is not really the Springbok captain is “almost challenging Siya’s intelligence for me”, says coach Rassie Erasmus.
In a wide-ranging interview with Matthew Pearce on SuperSport, Erasmus addressed the elephant in the room when it comes to Kolisi.
The impression often created on social media is that Duane Vermeulen is actually calling the shots on the field, with Kolisi just a black face to appease politicians and administrators.
What fuelled that kind of thinking even further was when Vermeulen took on an earpiece during the clash against Wales in Cardiff to speak to Erasmus – although the coach was at pains to explain afterwards that he was asking the big No 8 about his shoulder injury.
In confirming that Kolisi will lead the Boks to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, Erasmus insisted that the Stormers loose forward was the man in charge.
“Now, there are a few people – and I really don’t understand why they would do that – that currently with him as captain, it’s almost now a show for us, and he is not really the captain, and things like that?
“For me, I think if you go and talk to players, it’s almost challenging Siya’s intelligence for me... where people would say, ‘Would this guy as captain really sit there in the team, and Rassie is just bluffing this guy – he’s not really the captain’?” Erasmus said.
“Are they really thinking Siya would be stupid enough to just sit there and say he’s not really the captain, we’re doing this all for the show.
“This guy sits in my room every day. We discuss tactics every day. We tour for six weeks. It’s almost like people who are saying things like that, they’re actually challenging his integrity – because we love him as our leader, the way he’s doing it.
“And the way he’s brought in guys like Warren and Duane, and Jessie when Lukhanyo got injured, and Handré and Elton...
“For example, we don’t go to the referee meeting anymore. Siya picked three guys, and they go and discuss things. And he uses those role players to run certain things in the match.
“The captain’s role nowadays is almost to regulate the climate, the happiness, the focus, the intention, the team spirit – those kinds of things.”
Erasmus brought up a media report before the French Test, which stated that Kolisi was going to be dropped.
“Even the one day, the players came to me and said ‘Listen here, somebody on the Wednesday said Siya is going to get dropped for a Test match’,” he said.
“And we announce the team on a Monday morning at eight ’o clock, and we discuss the whole group in front of everybody. So, sometimes the people who say those things quickly loses a lot of respect inside the team, because the team was announced on Monday.
“It’s unfortunate, because if I am still here for the World Cup, and Siya is injury-free, he’s going to be the World Cup captain.”
The former Bok loose forward and Stormers coach did admit that he may have been “naïve” with the way he handled Kolisi’s appointment as skipper.
The player himself often spoke – especially during the June series against England – about not wanting to make a big deal of being the first black Springbok captain.
That was a mistake on both his and his coach’s part, because it was a huge development in South African rugby history.
Erasmus acknowledged that he should’ve been more aware of the impact that Kolisi’s appointment had on the public.
Mr Alexander also congratulated Rassie Erasmus and the Springboks on their nominations (Coach and Team of the Year): “We are happy with the resurgence of the Boks under Rassie Erasmus and we believe we are heading in the right direction, as is evident by these nominations." pic.twitter.com/pO79sCUFCz— South African Rugby (@Springboks) November 26, 2018
“When Siya was appointed, it was definitely not my plan to do this hell of a showpiece on what is this going to mean politically – outside the team. I was looking at what was the best for the Springboks. I didn’t expect this massive boom around Siya being captain. And I think Siya didn’t expect it,” Erasmus said.
“And I can tell you now, emotionally and the way… He went on a crash course of being a Springbok captain because of all the things that happened to him.
“He didn’t just have the job on the field – he had all of these other things happening around him. If I knew that, I probably would’ve done it a little bit slower with him, phasing him in as captain.
“That was not the intention, to create this ‘Wow! We are appointing Siya as captain.’ Massive, massive. As I said, if I knew that, I maybe would’ve done it a little bit slower – hell, got him some help in the beginning. Got him to sit with John Smit, Victor Matfield.
“Because I really didn’t think it would be such a big thing, and maybe it’s me being naïve – because I selected him purely because I thought that was the best for the Springboks.”@ashfakmohamed