Siya Kolisi’s miraculous comeback for Springboks was no fluke

South Africa's rugby captain Siya Kolisi (C) reacts on stage during the team’s departure ceremony

South Africa's rugby captain Siya Kolisi (C) is raring to go after a miraculous injury comeback. Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP

Published Aug 16, 2023


When Siya Kolisi leads the Springboks onto the pitch at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday, it will be one more step towards the completion of one of rugby’s miracle comebacks.

Kolisi suffered a “six-to-nine months” knee injury playing for the Sharks in April, but has defied the odds to return to action in half the time for Saturday’s warm-up match against Wales.

Kolisi’s coach, Jacques Nienaber, is a physiotherapist by trade and he said the 32-year-old’s incredible recovery is no fluke.

“I don’t think people understand the sacrifices Siya has made to get to the point where he is ready to play rugby, nor how hard his support team has worked,” the Bok coach said.

“From the beginning of his rehabilitation, he has had weekly markers set by the medical team that he had to achieve. He never missed one marker because he put in an outstanding effort to get through the injury stage by stage.

“Siya has shown what can be achieved by old-fashioned hard work,” Nienaber continued. “He has been totally dedicated to getting fit to lead his country. He was fortunate in the sense that a host of guys in the squad have been through the same rehab from knee injuries and he was able to bounce things off those guys as he went through the different phases. It reassured him if he was told by these guys that they had similar sensations in the knee at the same stage.”

The reward for Kolisi is leading the Boks out against Wales three weeks before the World Cup and if he feels fine afterwards, he will play next week against New Zealand in London.

“How long will Siya play for against Wales? He will stay on for as long as he produces,” Nienaber explained.

“He needs as many minutes as possible, but within reason. The aim for this fortnight is to get Siya battlehardened to play against Scotland in our first World Cup game (September 10).

“That is why he is starting the game. That way we can monitor how he is going and then we will sub him as soon as we judge that he has had enough.”

THE Springboks want to gain momentum in all their departments – the scrum, line-out, rolling maul and defence – in the Test against Wales on Saturday, but that quest could be impacted by the changes head coach Jacques Nienaber has made to the starting line-up.

Nienaber has made 11 changes to the team that played Argentina just over a week ago in Buenos Aires, although this one looks to be close to the strongest possible Bok side that will start the Rugby World Cup on September 10.

Captain Siya Kolisi returns from injury in a welcome boost, while there’s a different centre and lock pairing for the clash against the Dragons in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

The Bok guru, who will step down after the tournament in France, is hopeful his side can build some cohesiveness on Saturday and next Friday against the All Blacks at Twickenham before they face Scotland in their World Cup opener.

“It would be nice to get some momentum going into the World Cup, and winning a Test match builds nice momentum and confidence,” Nienaber said during his team announcement.

“But we also want to build in all our different departments, the stuff we want to get right and get confidence in. That is our ultimate goal for this Test match.

“Statistically, the Test matches between South Africa and Wales since we’ve been back had two or three points in them, so it’s always

been a tight affair, and that is exactly what we are expecting.

“It’s going to be a grind when you’re looking at what they did to England. It will be a proper Test match, and it is awesome for us.”

Munster locks Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman will pack down behind the experienced front row of Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff and Malcolm Marx, while Kolisi combines with Pieter-Steph du Toit and eighth man Jasper Wiese in the loose trio.

In the backs, Canan Moodie retains his place on the wing in a combination with Cheslin Kolbe and fullback Willie le Roux. Scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse will also play his first Test this year, and he pairs up with the only recognised flyhalf in the squad Manie Libbok.

To counter the physical game expected from Wales, Nienaber opted for a 6-2 split on the bench, with the retuning prop Ox Nche part of the Bomb Squad. Nche will also play his first Test this year after recovering from a chest injury.

“Siya and Ox have been working extremely hard on their rehabilitation over the course of several weeks and it’s fantastic that everything worked out according to plan to allow us to select them for this match.

“They have two games to build up their match fitness before the World Cup, and although it will be important to manage their load, it’s vital that they return to the field as they are key players.

“In terms of the lock combination, it’s literally splitting the loads. If you look at the game minutes, a guy like RG has probably played the fewest minutes of the locks. It’s nice to give him a start before the World Cup and hopefully he gets some proper minutes under his belt.

“The same with the wings. We are spreading as much as we can. (Makazole) Mapimpi played last weekend and Canan gets another chance this weekend. If you look at our wingers, they are all in form and can produce and play for us.”