Cape Town - Sport stars are often seen living a glamorous life, and it’s no different for rugby players in South Africa.
But the pressure of reaching the very top is immense, and it hit Springbok captain Siya Kolisi hard during the British & Irish Lions series in July and August.
Despite having won the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the Boks were desperate to beat the Lions and be spoken of with the same reverence as John Smit’s team, which clinched the 2007 World Cup and 2009 Lions series.
A 22-17 defeat in the first Test at Cape Town Stadium, though – having led 12-3 at half-time – threw a spanner in the works, and Kolisi and his team were in the spotlight for the second Test a week later.
Then it almost became too much for the 30-year-old captain to handle.
“Winning the Lions tour was really good, especially with everything that was happening. By the second week, it gets too intense because rugby in South Africa is not just any other sport – people connect with rugby differently in South Africa,” Kolisi reflected yesterday at Cape Town Stadium.
“We’re the one thing that people can complain about … Obviously, the other sports too. But for us, it feels like so much more because of 95 . The second week was tough.
“I was talking to (wife) Rachel, and mental health-wise, you get to a point where you’re like, ‘Jissie, it’s so tough that you think if you lose this game, everything is going to end’.
“Those kinds of pressures are difficult, and I remember having an interview with Elma (Smit, broadcaster), and she was asking me a simple question: ‘What would you tell the nine-year-old Siya?’, and then I just started crying – not because of the question, but because I knew if we lose this game, we’re done. So that was tough. But after that, I released. I called Rachel and I went to the bathroom – I was so embarrassed about crying for no (reason). ‘I’m crying!’ and she said ‘It’s good, it’s good, let it out’.
My story. My truth. In my words.— Siya Kolisi (@SiyaKolisi_Bear) October 4, 2021
Through my own rise, I hope I can show people in South Africa and around the world – of every colour, gender and spiritual belief – that anything is possible.https://t.co/NhmFnFz1nh#WeRISE pic.twitter.com/JOGY9f06lK
“And then we played and we won. But that was good, and I think the way that we pulled together … I don’t know why we always wait as South Africans to have our backs against the wall and then we start going, and we get behind each other.”
The flanker said he felt the heat again on the recent Rugby Championship tour of Australia, where the Boks lost twice to the Wallabies and then to the All Blacks, before pulling off a hard-fought 31-29 victory on the Gold Coast last Saturday.
The team arrived back in SA on Monday, after leaving the country on August 26. And Kolisi was happy to report that he did not sustain a serious neck injury against New Zealand.
“Losing three games in Australia was horrible. Once again, you get reminded … People were like, ‘You guys are just going to be like, remember how we were in 2016, are we going back there?’
“But inside, you know that there are a few things that we can fix to win the game, and we did. We pulled together and we won, which was special,” he said.
“I’m good, I’m good (with regards to the injury). I was also shocked – I was freaking out. I thought I wouldn’t be able to play again. I have never been so scared in a rugby game before.”
Next up for Kolisi and the Boks is the end-of-year tour to Europe, with Wales awaiting in Cardiff on November 6.
But at the moment, Kolisi is excited about the release of his autobiography, Rise, this week.