Cape Town – As
with so many other aspects of painstakingly transitioning South African
society, it’s the bigger picture that needs to be considered first and
respect, the selection by new Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus of Stormers
frontman Siya Kolisi - yes, despite his almost indisputably iffy personal showings
of late – as national captain for the looming England series is a poignant,
seminal moment in Bok history.
over-ridden, in a sense, what Kolisi “is”, as a player right now, in favour of
what many knowledgeable experts know he consummately can be when his best game
face is on: an inspirational fellow indeed on the side of the scrum, able to
both clatter into contact but also step deftly in open play and off-load in (or
a millisecond before) the tackle with great adroitness.
be some, on more justifiable, current rugby form ammunition, and still others
with more instantly prejudicial or provincialist tendencies, you can be sure,
who will turn their noses up at Kolisi getting the nod for the three-Test
pro-Siyamthanda camp - whose ranks are also considerable and notably
representative - will rejoice unreservedly at this landmark, as the near
27-year-old from humble, challenging roots in Zwide in the Eastern Cape becomes
the first black African player to lead the country in a fullest-scale
happen when the Boks run onto the Emirates Airline Park turf for the first Test
against the English on June 9.
Ralepelle, the now SA-recalled Sharks hooker, led the Boks once in a non-Test
match against a “World XV” at Leicester, under Jake White’s watch, in 2006.
He was then
a raw 20-year-old, and his career has seen much tumult since then, including a
But it’s real-deal
stuff for Kolisi, who leads the troops in very keenly-awaited Test combat
against one of South Africa’s most traditional rugby foes during June.
What Kolisi has
proved far more comprehensively than the 23-cap (only two as a starter) Ralepelle
in his own international career so far is his extremely apparent comfort at the
highest tier when in optimal touch.
for example, Kolisi was one of the most consistent Springbok stand-outs in
another otherwise wretched season, the second and last under the coaching
guidance of Allister Coetzee.
the No 6, open-side flank role, after a period in his green-and-gold career
when he was generally less conspicuous as the blind-sider, Kolisi was one of
desperately few Boks to produce properly thrilling or innovative moments
whenever his body language so clearly oozed passion and intent.
out rucks and drove with an energy that defies his relatively economical, not
much more than 100kg body mass, while his raids down the touchline and deft
linking instincts often contributed to some of the better Bok attacks.
It is the very
range of that known skill set, understandably, that will have rightly
frustrated a good many Kolisi monitors and admirers more recently, as he has
too seldom reproduced it during Super Rugby 2018.
slipped in standards roughly in line with the whole team under his command, as
their record stands at a disappointing “played 14, won five” and now massively
likely absence from the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
He is good
- and candid before a media microphone - at taking bad times squarely on the
chin, both on a personal and team level.
Nor would he,
you’d imagine, offer up any excuse based around overuse … a phenomenon that I
believe may not be without merit in explaining his dip in recent months.
Put it this
way: Kolisi and certain other compatriots seldom benefit from energising
“rotation” or sabbatical in the manner top New Zealand players do.
But he also
led the franchise, remember, to considerably more acceptable heights in his
maiden season as full-time skipper in 2017; they won their Africa
“sub-conference” easily and only blew out of the knockouts narrowly (17-11) to
it, Newlands isn’t at its happiest these days, considering the deep cash crisis
and ongoing administrative controversy, and Kolisi has also been minus, for the
entire campaign so far, his great mate and pack enforcer Eben Etzebeth.
disputing Kolisi’s ascent to the Bok leadership should also bear in mind that
Erasmus didn’t have a massive school of candidates to pick from: when men like
Warren Whiteley and Etzebeth eventually return to action from long-term injury,
their own credentials for the post will also re-enter the equation quite
Kolisi is a
temporary appointment, and he will know that.
At the same
time, getting the full series against England is a decent show of confidence in
its own right, and he will wish to take the opportunity to prosper rousingly at
the tiller of the Bok boat.
few national sports captains are lucky enough to earn universal or
near-universal approval levels from the public and pundits, and Kolisi,
especially because of the difficulties of the last few months, will be no
special exception to that rule.
That said, I
can think of many among the country’s rugby intelligentsia who will hail this
step; some already very publicly and swiftly have.
If Kolisi recaptures
his Springbok-specific form of 2017 over the next few weeks, it should seep
positively into his captaincy as well, making him a real possibility for
leading the SA cause at RWC 2019.
would be an enormous societal unifier in these fractious times, don’t you
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