How leadership got the best out of Kolisi
Cape Town - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck knows the exact day when the idea to make Siya Kolisi his captain for this year’s Super Rugby tournament firmed up in his head.
“I was at his wedding last year,” remembered Fleck. “When I sat and listened to this guy humbly describing how he grew up in Port Elizabeth and doing it from the heart ... I’d always thought he was a leader but that day at his wedding it came through so powerfully.
“He’s a reluctant leader but goes on what he sees and feels, and he’s an honest and humble guy. He’s almost like a rough diamond as a leader but when he speaks people listen. The biggest kudos to him is that it comes naturally to him...he doesn’t have to read books about it.”
Mainly because he’s always played like a typical bruiser loose-forward, it’s taken a while for the rest of the country to take Kolisi’s claims as a leader as seriously as the folks in Cape Town. But Fleck credits it and his marriage as the two things responsible for the ultimate warrior who reintroduced himself so explosively to international rugby in the second Test against the French last weekend.
While that dominant performance in Durban – a day after his 26th birthday and possibly the best by an individual Springbok in 10 years – has had its every nook and cranny examined since, it was so glorious its highlights are still worth repeating.
Kolisi, who made his international debut in 2013, was involved in three of the Boks’ four tries, scoring from an intercept and making the passes for Jan Serfontein and Elton Jantjies’ tries; he was industrious and hard-hitting in the tackle; and an absolute nuisance over the ball on the ground.
Fleck reiterated that his responsibilities were the reasons for the change: “He’s floated around a bit over the last two years, but he’s sorted out a few things in his personal life and with the responsibilities of family and the captaincy he’s made goals and seen a turnaround in his career.
“He drives the team culture for us and he’s always said he has to sort himself out before he leads the team, and because he feels responsible for the team it’s gone into his game as well.”
Two things caught the eye when it came to Kolisi’s performance in Durban: he played as an all-purpose flanker and his skills, as shown by his fingertip pickup of the ball en route to scoring his intercept try, were so much better than in the past.
The player himself immediately acknowledged it after the game: “We work hard every week on our skills (at the Stormers), before and after training we do our skills sessions. It’s something we’re working hard on from the unions already.
“We know that it’s something that’s lacking in South Africa so we’re working hard on it to make sure we get better. So when we come here we don’t have to work hard on everything we just have to touch up on a few things.”
Fleck agreed: “His skills have come on massively. His catch and pass skills were a weakness, he used to catch the ball on his chest. But he’s worked on his catching and offloading skills so he no longer dies with the ball now, he’s looking to pass the ball in the air.”
It was also noticeable that Kolisi did his damage in the openside flank’s jersey, a number he hasn’t liked playing in because it entailed pigeonholing him as a fetcher. But his attitude to that has softened of late.
“I just love rugby,” he said. “I used to worry about where I was playing a lot and at that time I didn’t play so well. But now it’s okay wherever I play as long as I get an opportunity to play rugby. There are a lot of guys that would love to have this opportunity, so I want to grab it with both hands.”
Fleck did his bit to explain how a flanker’s role had moved on slightly from just being an openside or blindside: “The modern day flanker is quite industrious in that he has to steal ball, carry, be a lineout option and defend.
“Siya is not quite quick enough to be an openside and not quite big enough to be a blindside, so he’s an in-between sort of player. But he’s industrious like a modern day flanker, so whether he plays six or seven is irrelevant.”