Cape Town – Siya Kolisi will be at an inviting near-peak of
his rugby career – aged 28 -- when the Japan-staged 2019 World Cup comes along.
He could enter and then potentially perform in it as a
genuine superstar, particularly if he keeps producing showings even close to
his thunderous, illuminatingly multi-pronged effort for South Africa against
France at Kings Park on Saturday.
But there’s an “if” attached to that theory, and I will come
The Test was his 18th, of which only five have
been starts, and almost undoubtedly his best yet.
He was a bundle of energy in the nearest he came to
emulating Saturday, which was also his unexpectedly extended debut for the Boks
off the bench against Scotland at Mbombela Stadium in 2013.
Then, an almost as raw Arno Botha, earning his second
national appearance, tore knee ligaments as early as the fourth minute and
Kolisi deputised with great aplomb at blindside flank in a loose trio featuring
Marcell Coetzee at six and Pierre Spies in the eighth-man role.
It is at No 7 that the Zwide-born customer has more
customarily been stationed at all levels subsequently, although he has switched
between the two flank berths and it is difficult not to suspect that it has
been detrimental in some respects to his development, not to mention
consistency of performance.
Personally, I have long been extremely adamant that his best
deployment is on the open side, where there is more scope for his broadest
skill set to thrive, even if he has publicly said on a few occasions that he
doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as an out-and-out “fetcher”.
That is fair enough, but with a stronger emphasis these days
on multiple players – and not solely forwards, either – being increasingly
trained and empowered to get involved in the all-important ball-stealing
function, the role of the old-style, low-centre-of-gravity mole has evolved or
even been rendered partially obsolete anyway.
It is why now overseas-based co-Springboks like Schalk
Burger and Coetzee have been able to operate with some comfort in either flank
berth, whether in Tests or Super Rugby and the provincial game. (Burger, of
course, has also shown an aptitude at times for the cares of No 8 in the later phase
of his especially distinguished rugby life.)
But there are several reasons why, I would argue, Kolisi
should be nudged closer to regular activity – thus only enhancing his comfort
and equally importantly knowledge in the role – as an open-sider.
For starters, he does not have quite the physical hallmarks
that have become renowned with luminary occupants of the Bok blindside berth over
a period stretching back many years.
The sort of blind-sider South Africa – and several other
major countries -- have generally favoured since the advent of full
professionalism, and even a bit before it if you add in figures like Theuns
Stofberg and Gert Smal, is a man both physically and athletically capable of
alternating as a suitably robust second-rower if necessary.
In post-isolation times, forceful and suitably tall-timber
specimens deployed by the Boks in the role have included Ian Macdonald, Andre
Venter, Juan Smith, Willem Alberts and Danie Rossouw.
They would not mind, in most instances, being branded
earthy, uncompromising beasts who suck opposition defenders (sometimes well
more than one) in on the carry, do grunt-laden donkeywork more commonly than
the “glamour” stuff, and provide notable back-of-lineout presences as well.
Kolisi, with his slightly more modest 102kg frame and some
1.88m, will never quite be that brand of No 7; certainly he is seldom, if ever,
spoken of as a viable emergency lock option, for instance.
Besides, if you try to make him a more dedicated
blind-sider, you are also, more than a little sadly, neutralising several of
his more open play-linked attributes demonstrated so inspiringly on Saturday.
Who wants Kolisi snarled up too much in heavy traffic – not
for a second am I suggesting he would or does shirk any responsibilities there
-- when the rangier aspects to his game came into such wonderful focus in the
It is not as though the player lacks relish or ability for
closer-quarters grappling; far from it. He is tigerishly committed, and
muscular in his own right.
But with the greater freedom for expression granted by his
role at No 6 against the French on Saturday, we also saw him produce one of the
most complete displays possible by a modern open-sider.
I would go so far as to say there has been no more dynamic showing
by a Bok in the No 6 shirt since Heinrich Brussow – granted, a slightly
different animal in bodily make-up -- was such a thorn in the All Blacks’
collective side during the consecutive home Tri-Nations victories over them in
2009 at Bloemfontein and Durban.
Kolisi did everything on Saturday: he stole balls both on
the deck and while on his feet, tackled or helped halt mauling Frenchmen, but
he also served fresh notice that he has a better turn of speed in free space
than some of us may have realised, and a wonderful pair of hands as shown by
some tricky, admirable pick-ups near his toes.
Frankly, there were some blessings in disguise when Oupa
Mohoje had the misfortune of leaving the park early through injury, because by
acquiring the more direct-by-nature qualities of Jean-Luc du Preez as
replacement blind-sider, both Kolisi and No 8 and captain Warren Whiteley were
agreeably freed up to play more dynamic, constructive personal games.
Balance to the Bok loose trio? Voila, as if by flick of a
switch, it was suddenly there for all to see.
It would be utterly foolish, I contend, to mess with that
equilibrium. Kolisi at open-side, Whiteley eight and any one of a barn-door Du
Preez, Ruan Ackermann or maybe even still Duane Vermeulen in the No 7 post is
the way forward, for crying out loud.
Jaco Kriel? At least for the foreseeable future, great legs
to be able to summon off the splinters as a game advances.
My view: Kolisi is back on course to become a world standout
But that’s if, however, Saturday’s abundant evidence has
been enough to persuade his various coaches, as I believe it should, that the fog
has cleared: at least by near-unique SA definition, he IS a six!
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