South Africa captain Siya Kolisi says he was so stunned meeting Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp after their Rugby World Cup triumph that he fell off his chair.
Klopp met up with Springboks stars including Kolisi as well as the country’s cricket captain Faf du Plessis while visiting Cape Town during the most recent international break.
Kolisi recalled how Klopp spoke with each of the players in turn to congratulate them on their 32-12 defeat of England in the World Cup final in Yokohama on November 2.
The flanker admits meeting the “amazing” coach allowed him to understand why Liverpool players are thriving under his leadership.
Speaking to Sky Sports about South Africa’s post-tournament celebrations, Kolisi said: “This was one of the highlights. He’s such an amazing human being and I understand why the boys play so hard for him.
“He came and greeted every single person at the table; he came and spoke to me for 40 minutes.
“When I saw him, I fell off my chair! And everyone around me didn’t understand. I’ve got huge respect for him.”
The story of Kolisi’s rise from an impoverished childhood in post-apartheid South Africa to winning the World Cup as captain of the national team captured huge interest before and during the tournament.
While he admits he never thought such an experience would be possible, the 28-year-old now wants to give back to his country to help those who continue to live in difficulty.
“I even said it to my team-mates: I never dreamed of this in a million years,” he said. “But I’m glad that it happened. We all come from different backgrounds as team-mates and now kids can start dreaming about this moment, because we’ve done it.
“I’d love to hope [that we’ve changed perceptions] but there is a bit of work to do.
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand how big it is. It was really tough. Honestly, I wasn’t in the worst of circumstances. People are in far worse circumstances. But I had love, support and time given to me by the people that raised me.
“I know we’re all celebrating the story, and it’s amazing, but kids shouldn’t have to go through that. That’s why I’m trying to work as hard as I can with some of my team-mates to give back to as many as we can.
“If I can make a difference in somebody else’s life… that’s the stuff that you want to be remembered for. I knew how much it could mean if we could win, for us as individuals, for the team and for the country.”
Kolisi believes director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was a critical part of the Springboks’ success, even down to his message before the final about the importance of doing their country proud.
“He’s a special human being – I’ve learned so much from him,” Kolisi added. “I’ve known him since I was a little kid. He’s backed me from the beginning. He had a great plan and we all bought into it.
“That’s what he told us [that rugby is a privilege] before we warmed up for the final. We know what pressure is: someone dying, something happened to one of your family members or friends, but we had the privilege of putting smiles on people’s faces who are going through all that pressure.
“That’s what he made us understand before we stepped on that field. We weren’t playing for ourselves anymore; we were playing for a nation. Without even knowing it, we touched so many people. When we walked on that field, we knew what we had to do.
“I didn’t have to speak – coach spoke, that was it. If that wasn’t going to make you ready for the game, you were never going to be ready.”
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