Why Siya Kolisi must remain Springbok captain

Siya Kolisi takes a selfie with Springbok fans in front of Cape Town’s City Hall during last year’s World Cup Trophy Tour. Photo: IAN LANDSBERG Independent Newspapers

Siya Kolisi takes a selfie with Springbok fans in front of Cape Town’s City Hall during last year’s World Cup Trophy Tour. Photo: IAN LANDSBERG Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 16, 2024


Comment by Ashfak Mohamed

SIYA Kolisi attended a gala dinner in London this past Thursday.

It was not technically in his honour, but the Springbok loose forward and his wife Rachel were in attendance at the famous Savoy Hotel for the UK’s Finding The Light Foundation, as the representatives for the Kolisi Foundation.

It is part of a fundraising effort for the Bok skipper’s organisation, with performances from West End theatre stars also part of the dinner. A similar event will be taking place at Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre, running from April 17-21, with SA’s entertainer extraordinaire Marc Lottering as the host.

The Finding the Light Foundation describes itself as “an initiative to help unite and mobilise South Africans and Africans in the UK and in South Africa in support of those addressing frontline challenges in Africa, and particularly South Africa”.

Making a social impact is a major part of Kolisi’s life these days, as he tries to help those in need – having emerged from a tough upbringing in difficult circumstances in Zwide township in the Eastern Cape to become a double World Cup champion.

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and the rest of the players told the story about how, before the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the “main thing must stay the main thing” – meaning the actual rugby, and that the other parts of life such as social media and endorsement deals would come flowing through if they got the playing part right first.

They certainly did that by beating England 32-12 in Yokohama in 2019, and then the All Blacks 12-11 in Paris last October.

Siya Kolisi lifts the Webb Ellis Cup after the Springboks beat the All Blacks in last year’s World Cup final in Paris. Photo: EPA

But for all Kolisi’s work with his foundation – he is currently nursing a hand injury anyway, which has made him unavailable for his French club Racing 92 – he is still a keen competitor on the pitch.

Moving from South Africa and the Sharks last year to Paris and Racing 92 is far from an indication that he wants to “slow down” and take things easy after winning two World Cups in a row.

As he turns 33 on June 16, the easier option for Kolisi would have been to join a Japanese club – there was no shortage of offers either to go to the Far East – but instead, Kolisi chose the rough and tumble of the physically demanding French Top 14 as the place to continue his career.

So, it’s clear that he doesn’t want to give up his Bok career just yet. Kolisi will be 36 at the 2027 Rugby World Cup in Australia, and as Deon Fourie and others have shown, it is definitely possible for a loose forward to still play a major role at Test level at that age.

Siya Kolisi in action against the All Blacks in last year’s World Cup final in Paris. Photo: Reuters

But should Kolisi continue as the Bok captain? Erasmus said this week that he prefers to have the skipper based in South Africa, as it makes it easier to communicate – while SA Rugby could also manage the players better if they play for local franchises.

The Bok coach said he will consider Kolisi for the captaincy again this year, but he will have to “suss it out” as to whether having someone based overseas will work for the world champions.

But, to paraphrase Erasmus, the “main thing must stay the main thing” – which in this instance means that the best man for the job must be appointed.

And is there anyone better than Kolisi to lead the Springboks?

Apart from being an inspirational figure purely because of his personal back story, he played superbly last year in the charge to the Webb Ellis Cup – all of course after making a remarkable recovery from an ACL knee injury within four months to be fit in time for the World Cup.

If that doesn’t tell you about his commitment to the cause, then nothing will...

Erasmus also acknowledged that Kolisi has been playing good rugby for Racing 92 as well this season.

And in 2024, most things can be discussed via a Zoom meeting.

In addition, there isn’t a clear-cut ready-made replacement to become the Bok captain. Yes, all of Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, Handré Pollard and Pieter-Steph du Toit have led SA before, but they just don’t have quite the same gravitas as Kolisi.

The former Stormers skipper has proven his worth on and off the field and is the true commander of the Boks, and he should run out in front when they face Ireland in a massive clash on July 6 at Loftus Versfeld.

A stand-in captain can take charge for the opening Test of the year against Wales in London on June 22, with SA players based in the UK, France and possibly Ireland unavailable as the date is outside the official international window.

Siya Kolisi and Rassie Erasmus have walked a long path together, from their days at the Stormers. Photo: BackpagePix

Perhaps Erasmus’ comments were a message to Kolisi and other seniors not to think that they will just walk into the team again in 2024, which is fair enough in a bid to maintain that hunger for another four-year cycle.

The Bok boss explained that there are ‘roadmaps’ for all players in the Bok mix, and that the management are well aware of who can keep going and others who may have to hang up their boots this year.

But Kolisi is young enough to go all the way for a ‘three-peat’ at the 2027 World Cup as well – if his body and form is still up to scratch, which it has been this season...