Siya Kolisi, to start for the Springboks or not, is simply a rugby discussion. Read the lines and don’t go looking for a racial conspiracy of encrypted code within the lines.
This week, I wrote that Siya Kolisi had to be leading the Springboks into battle against the British & Irish Lions on the 24th July at Cape Town Stadium in the first of three Tests.
‘Duh’, wasn’t I stating the obvious? was the first retort.
‘Siya’s the World Cup-winning captain … why even write that?’
And then it started …
‘Ah I guess it is obvious … skin colour …’
And then it continued …
‘Ah, a black player succeeds and …’
The comments quickly descended into a racial war of words. Somewhere in between were the rugby followers’ opinions, with those arguing why Kolisi should start and captain the Springboks and others saying pick the team first and then the captain, and questioning whether Kolisi was the best playing option to start.
The rugby conversation is a very appropriate one; the race one has no substance and no place.
So, here’s the rugby discussion.
Kolisi’s position is being discussed because there is an argument that could be made that currently he doesn’t warrant selection on form. Kolisi, a few weeks ago, subscribed to that view in media interviews and said his challenge was to end that discussion through performance.
In the past two matches he has hinted at the form that saw him empty the tank for 64 minutes against England in the Springboks World Cup final in 2019.
The Springboks haven’t played since and Kolisi’s game time was limited at the Stormers because of injury and Covid match and tournament cancellations, and his last month at the Sharks has been his most active and productive on the field since the World Cup.
The Kolisi graph is going in the right direction and I have no doubt that the Bok coaching and conditioning staff will have Kolisi ready to lead the battle in Cape Town come the 24th July.
My blog entry motivated the rugby rationale for backing Kolisi and if I felt there was a stronger rugby argument to be made not to back him, I’d have written the why of such thinking.
Debate about Kolisi’s position is coupled with the fact that he is the captain of the Springboks and has absolutely nothing to do with skin colour, just like the discussion around Francois Pienaar in 1996 had nothing to do with skin colour and the brutal debate about John Smit in 2008 had nothing to do with skin colour.
Kolisi is a World Cup-winning captain. Pienaar is a World Cup-winning captain. Smit is a World Cup-winning captain. The latter two were not spared in the year after the World Cup. Pienaar split public opinion and there were those up north who swore by his leadership and those in the south who believed his rugby wasn’t good enough to make the starting team. The Springbok coach in 1996 shared the view of those in the south and he axed Pienaar and appointed Gary Teichmann as Springbok captain.
Smit constantly had to listen to and read about the brilliance of his provincial and regional teammate Bismarck du Plessis, who played the same position. Smit’s claim to the starting No 2 jersey was always under discussion, in the media, on social media and in rugby corridors. It is incredible that his passion for the Boks and his charisma remained consistent from his first Test to his 111th.
Ditto, Jean de Villiers, just before the 2015 World Cup when his form was doubted and Teichmann, pre the 1999 World Cup when he was not selected because of perceived lack in form.
No captain since I started reporting on the Springboks in 1992 has escaped the scrutiny.
Kolisi is being treated equally to those who have come before him, and he wouldn’t want it any other way.
To not want to debate Kolisi’s position because of his skin colour is to insult him and his achievements as the Springbok captain.
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