Cape Town – Some critics are already moving onto the next stage of the Siya Kolisi injury saga: who should be the next Springbok captain? And who should wear the No 6 jersey at the World Cup?
But we should not be ready to give up on Kolisi making an appearance at France 2023 just yet…
IOL Sport this week reported that the Bok skipper was seeking a third specialist opinion on Tuesday, having received two others already which recommended surgery on his right knee that is sure to rule him out of the World Cup.
The more conservative route is to avoid going under the knife and do rehabilitation on the knee ligament injury, which could see him be ready in time – but the problem may not be 100 percent fixed.
But the importance of Kolisi’s presence in the Bok World Cup campaign cannot be over-emphasised. It is easy to pick another captain – the likes of vice-captain Handre Pollard and star centre Lukhanyo Am immediately come to mind – but there is no way that whoever takes over that leadership role will have the same impact of the incumbent openside flank.
Kolisi has walked a long road in international rugby, from his thrilling Test debut against Scotland in Mbombela in 2013 – where he was the Man of the Match despite coming on as a substitute for the injured Arno Botha in the first half – to leading the Boks to a handsome 27-13 win over England at Twickenham last November.
The 31-year-old has become an icon of the international game as much for his on-field performances as for his incredible off-field journey to the top, where his philanthropic work via the Kolisi Foundation has been spectacular too.
But let’s stick to the actual rugby in this instance. Some naysayers like to take pot-shots at Kolisi as he isn’t a ‘fetcher’ in the traditional sense at No 6, saying that he hangs out on the wing a lot of the time – forgetting that fulfilling that role is exactly what makes him so effective.
His main strength is as a ball-carrier who can get over the advantage line in the wide channels, which provides width to the attack and also assists those backs who need support at the breakdowns.
Kolisi has an immense work-rate in defence too, tackling anything that moves and doing the ‘dirty work’ of cleaning out attacking rucks to secure the Boks’ possession.
He pulls out an audacious offload on the odd occasion as well with ball-in-hand.
The form No 6 in SA rugby right now is Stormers veteran Deon Fourie, but while he is unquestionably the best fetcher on the ground, he doesn’t really bring the other attributes around the pitch.
As a captain, there is no doubt that Kolisi is the leader of the team – even though some Bok ‘fans’ still feel that Duane Vermeulen was calling the shots at the 2019 World Cup…
His steely determination was in stark contrast to the nervous-looking Owen Farrell at the 2019 final coin toss, and he carried that focus through on that memorable night in Yokohama.
Even when he has butterflies in his stomach, Kolisi rarely shows it, and he has grown into being in the spotlight, which wasn’t something he always enjoyed initially.
Earlier today Rachel Kolisi made an Instagram post asking for prayers for Siya Kolisi. Apparently his injury is worse than first thought. Even if he walked after the Sharks game. The #Springboks will sweat over his fitness ahead of the #RWC2023 https://t.co/rBpm0howZJ— Leighton Koopman (@Leighton_K) April 24, 2023
There isn’t a clear-cut alternative either that provides everything the Sharks loose forward offers in that regard. Pollard has had his injury problems in recent seasons, and apart from the Junior Springboks previously, he hasn’t been the full-time skipper at senior level – having led the Bulls as a stop-gap measure when others have been injured.
He is the official vice-captain, though, and having already led the Boks against Wales last year, he is someone who would enjoy the responsibility – but he won’t have the same experience and gravitas as Kolisi.
Am has been a captain at the Sharks, but comes across as a reluctant leader who prefers doing his talking with a piece of skill with the ball or turnover on the ground – and former captain Eben Etzebeth is in a similar boat.
So, when evaluating all angles, Kolisi is almost irreplaceable as a captain and player. Everything possible needs to be done by SA Rugby to get him fit in time for the World Cup. We saw how in 1995, André Joubert’s broken hand in the quarter-final led to a special glove being flown in from Ireland for him to continue playing.
Perhaps Kolisi could get a special procedure done overseas? Or perhaps spending lots of time in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber – like Joubert did – to aid his recovery can do the trick.
Whatever it is, Siya Kolisi must lead the Boks at the World Cup!