It will be a memorable face-off for first-time Test captains Owen Farrell and Siya Kolisi when the Springboks battle England at Ellis Park today. 
See pages 18 and 28Graphic: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)
Today Siya Kolisi, the Springboks’ first black captain in history, will walk in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps down the very same tunnel at Ellis Park and wearing the same No 6 jersey when he leads a new-look Bok team into battle with England in the first Test of the home season.

It was 23 years ago when the first black president of South Africa inspired the team to their first world title.

Mandela’s public endorsement of the Boks was not only a memorable picture of Africa’s first World Cup in any sporting code but it was the symbol of unity for a country that was divided for so long by the very sport of rugby.

The 27-year-old Kolisi, whose appointment to the Bok captaincy has seen him reach cult status around the country, says he doesn’t want to think too much about the fanfare around the captaincy issue and the magnitude of it.

Kolisi, who leads Western Province and the Stormers, is hoping to reflect on his historic achievement after the series against England has been won.

“I don’t want to think about it too much because I don’t want to place a lot of pressure on myself. After these three Tests, and hopefully God will be on our side, and we win all of them, then I will sit down and allow everything to sink in. If I think about them now, it will place a lot of pressure on me and the pressure I have at the moment is enough,” said Kolisi in Joburg yesterday.

“I know how big a task playing England is and that has been the main focus. Through everything the main thing is making sure we perform.

“It will be the first time that everything just comes together for me and realising how big this moment is.”

While all eyes will be on Kolisi, in the same way they were on Mandela in that World Cup final against the All Blacks, the Port Elizabeth-born loose forward says his only focus is to lead through his actions on the field and also to utilise the leadership qualities of those players around him.

“I’ve been really relaxed. Coach (Rassie Erasmus) has made it quite simple for me. He says the only thing he wants from me is to perform.

“When I first captained the Stormers I preferred shared leadership there are other guys who have led at their unions who will help me through,” Kolisi added.

There’s also an unblemished series record against England that the Boks will want to maintain. They have never lost a series at home to the tourists.

The starting team includes seven black players, and one more on the bench.

“I’m excited for them and really proud of the guys. They have really worked hard.

“You can see that coach is rewarding guys who have played well in Super Rugby. It feels like a new beginning for all of us. We are all in the same boat and we all want to do well.

“I know the guys will be a little nervous in the beginning, but they will get through it because we have worked very hard in the past two weeks,” Kolisi said.

“The crowd always gets behind us (and) when we play here we bring our best. I think it won’t be any different because this is one of the awesome Test matches.

“We don’t play against them as often as we play against Australia and New Zealand. It is a special one and that is why it is such a big occasion, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Kolisi’s life journey from poverty in the township of Zwide in Port Elizabeth to becoming a rugby superstar in the history of South African sport will be inspiration enough for his teammates.

But it’s walking in Madiba’s footsteps at Ellis Park that could be enough to unite all races in the country behind the Boks once again.

“People always ask me ‘what is your favourite field to play on?’ When I play for my union, it is Newlands, but for the Boks, it is Ellis Park. It’s a special field to play on. When you are standing and looking at the crowd, you see the whole of South Africa in front of you, all different races and colours.”