South African rugby’s unification finally is complete. The Springboks have a leader who epitomises everything good about modern South Africa. They have a man at the helm leading a transformed and successful team.
Now the work can finally begin to shape a modern Springboks, in sync with the country its players represent, and not in conflict with the idealism and integrity of a democratic South Africa.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, in appointing Kolisi as the first black captain, said it was incidental that Kolisi was black. He gave the player the responsibility because of his belief in his qualities as a leader and his worth as a Test player.
The captain must be able to command a place in the starting XV. Erasmus was emphatic that Kolisi, playing a reshaped loose-forward role to what had been the case in 2017, was his best starting option in the No6 jersey.
“I coached him since he was 18 years old when he arrived at the Stormers from the Eastern Cape, and through the Academy until he played for the Stormers,” said Erasmus.
“I know him as a good rugby player. I’ve seen him go through tough times and good times. He is great leader. I like him because he is humble, he is quiet and I like the way he is playing. He isn’t flashy, but he is doing the hard work.”
Then the Bok coach paid Kolisi the player the ultimate compliment. He likened Kolisi’s presence to that of legendary Springbok hard man Andre Venter, a former teammate of Erasmus and one of the greatest loose-forwards in international rugby’s professional era.
“He’s doing the breakdown work on attack, he’s carrying the ball on attack and he’s cleaning out. He’s really doing the old blindside flanker job like Andre Venter did. It’s not flashy but it’s physical and it’s effective. It’s another string to his bow.’
Kolisi, in the opening two Tests against England, vindicated Erasmus on every front. His play in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein was world class and his leadership huge in shaping the most dramatic fightback in Joburg for the Boks to win 42-39 after trailing 24-3.
Kolisi’s calm and presence again was at the fore of a Springboks comeback win in Bloemfontein when the hosts overturned a 12-0 deficit to triumph 23-12.
Bloemfontein, as an occasion, was particularly poignant: Kolisi, on his 27th birthday, became the first black Springbok captain to win a series in South Africa, and teammate Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira became the first black African to play 100 Tests for the Springboks.
Erasmus underplayed the significance of Kolisi being black, but the historic recall of the appointment won’t be as understated because it was the most incisive and impactful Springbok coach call in the history of South African rugby.
Erasmus, by backing the playing merits of a black player and making him the captain in his first home series against one of the best teams in the world, crushed all stereotype associated with Springbok rugby for the last 100 years.
Erasmus made a rugby call that spoke to modern South Africa’s playing base.
There will never be any going back because Kolisi, in his play and leadership, has in this series scripted a chapter of excellence that forever will be the introduction to a new and lasting Springbok rugby story that speaks to the ambition of all South Africans.
Kolisi, in honouring his appointment as captain of the Springboks, spoke of inclusivity and a country’s people as one. He spoke of South Africans.
PICS: Captain Siya Kolisi and the rest of the #Springboks took selfies and engaged with fans after practice at the Green Point Track earlier this evening. Photos: @ashfakmohamed @IOL @CapeTimesSA @TheCapeArgus @WeekendArgus #SAvENG pic.twitter.com/7QH93Ix9ON
“I hope I get to inspire not only black people, but every South African because I don’t only represent black people but everyone in the country,” said Kolisi.
“Rassie (Erasmus) showed us a picture when we assembled at camp, while we were playing for our different franchises on the field. In front of us were all South Africans from all races cheering for us,” he added.
“That’s why we also wear the South African flag on our chests every time we run out for the Springboks.
“It’s a representation of all our people.”