Siya Kolisi’s appointment as captain of the Springboks has been widely considered one of the best decisions of coach Rassie Erasmus’ tenure.
Kolisi, one of South Africa’s form player over the last few years, is an excellent leader, a fantastic player and has united the nation as the Springboks’ first black captain.
Kolisi’s elevation to captain was never a political statement, however, and there was never any wider meaning to the selection.
“To be honest with you, the initial appointment of Siya as captain, my plan never was this big thing to get the country behind us and have another plan with Siya,” said Erasmus.
The Stormers flanker is black, but that’s just a coincidence – he’s clearly now the best man for the job.
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To begin with, however, not a lot of thought actually went into instilling Kolisi as the Springboks’ leader.
“I’m quite honest with you now, and you’ll one day hear from the players how Siya was appointed captain,” Erasmus said.
“Siya was actually the best Super Rugby-performing team captain, and that’s the reason why he became captain of the Springboks. It was very sudden on him – I didn’t have a lot of conversations with him before that first test match he became the captain.
“So, it wasn’t like four or five months where we sat down and worked out a strategy and a plan.”
Despite Kolisi’s somewhat arbitrary (but not irrational) election, there’s no question that he’s forged a reputation as one of South Africa’s modern greats.
The Port Elizabeth-born loose forward has the backing of not just his own team, but a whole nation.
Erasmus has admitted that he was somewhat taken aback by the reaction to Kolisi’s appointment.
“I was a bit naive, because the whole emotional things that went around that in South Africa, about having the first black captain for the Springboks, certainly caught Siya off guard, it caught me off guard.”
It wasn’t the easiest of starts to Kolisi, with all the weight of expectations on his shoulders, but he’s grown into the role considerably.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 1, 2019
“I thought his game suffered a little bit in the first few games,” said Erasmus. “Then he got better and better, and we always knew he was a great player.
“When that got better, he got an injury, and when he got back from the injury, then he had to be captain again, and we had to get him slowly back into the mix for the World Cup.
“But the timing is great now. The last two games, he had great games again, and we also managed his gametime really well. He is firing fit to have a good final.
Now, Kolisi is in line to make his 50th appearance for the Springboks on the biggest of stages, a World Cup final.
“It’s his 50th test match, and it is fitting and a wonderful occasion for a guy to be the captain, the first black captain – now it’s also sunk into me. I understand how big it is, and I am not so naive any more.
“It is a wonderful story, and for him to handle those emotional – not stress – but emotional extras, which come with something that I didn’t expect, is just wonderful, and really, well done by him.”
The 28-year-old could still very much be in the frame for the 2023 World Cup in France, but he will naturally be putting all his efforts into Saturday’s fixture with England.
Regardless of what happens, Kolisi has already cemented his place in South African rugby folklore.
Cheslin Kolbe is back for the Rugby World Cup final after sitting out South Africa’s semi-final win over Wales:
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