Siya Kolisi came of age as a Test captain in the Test series triumph against the British & Irish Lions. He now comfortably sits alongside the very best to have ever led the Springboks, writes Mark Keohane.
Kolisi, when the Springboks won the 2019 World Cup, was tremendous as a player but he was still growing into his role as the national captain.
It is the Lions series, in Tests number two and number three, that saw Kolisi wear the crown with presence, with attitude, with conviction and with class. He was magnificent in his loose-forward contribution in the 27-9 second Test win, but it was as a leader that he stood so tall in the build-up to the Test match in how he handled the media glare and the aftermath of National Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus’s statement, made on video, that first Test referee Nic Berry, had disrespected Kolisi in their interactions.
Kolisi reaffirmed the view of his World Cup-winning coach and challenged those asking the questions to go and watch the Erasmus video. The Bok captain did not flinch when discussing the Test match and the controversy of the first Test match. He also did not pause in telling the world media that he and his team would respond to the first Test defeat because they were always playing for something bigger than a rugby result.
The Springboks, he said, played to give some hope to the people of South Africa and to give them something to smile about. Winning the second Test and the series decider would be a momentary escape from the ongoing hardships and battles within South Africa.
Kolisi and his teammates delivered on this promise and the Boks won both Tests to claim the series victory.
Kolisi, calm in his delivery throughout his interactions with the match officials and media, was calculated in when he spoke and considered in why he wanted to speak.
Kolisi is one of three World Cup-winning Springbok captains, alongside Francois Pienaar (1995) and John Smit (2007) and he and Smit are the only two Bok captains to lead a team to World Cup victory and to a Lions series win two years later, with Smit’s Boks doing it in 2009.
Kolisi grew immeasurably as a leader in the most intense circumstances in the past fortnight and the Boks, in the build-up to the 2023 World Cup in France, will arrive in Paris with one of the strongest leadership groups, led by one of the game’s strongest leaders.
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