The next five rounds of the Rainbow Cup SA will be of critical importance for Siya Kolisi to regain some eye-catching form ahead of the British & Irish Lions series, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Since Kolisi was officially unveiled as a Sharks player in mid-February, the Bok captain has been open and honest about what he hopes to achieve in Durban.
Kolisi acknowledged that he struggled last year with a stop-start season, one impacted by a pandemic and disruptive injuries.
The 29-year-old didn’t shy away from admitting that he wasn’t at his best in 2020, but also had the self-awareness to highlight that he was the sort of player who needed a consistent run of games to build his way back to his best on the field of play.
He has been thrown into an intensive conditioning programme over the past few weeks at the Sharks, and has gone through a phased return to play, with last Saturday’s clash with the Stormers representing his first real ‘competitive’ start.
At the Sharks, biokineticist Jimmy Wright keeps a low public profile, but in local rugby circles he is renowned as one of the most highly regarded medical experts who finds holistic ways to get players into elite physical condition.
Kolisi has been in good hands, and has also revealed that he has been ‘working with a dietician and eating a lot better’.
The building blocks are there, and confidence will have been gradually growing, but it can’t be overlooked that there is increasingly limited time before the Lions arrive on local shores (their squad announcement takes place on Thursday).
Once again, the goal posts have also been recently shifted after the overseas leg of the Rainbow Cup had to be scrapped, leaving South African teams with a double round of local derbies.
SA Rugby is expected to announce a couple of warm-up Tests prior to the Lions series, but it’s the next sequence of domestic clashes that will provide Kolisi with the foundation he craves to bank some consistent game time for really the first time in over a year.
The Sharks under coach Sean Everitt have always placed a premium on players contesting at the breakdown, and Kolisi will be determined to contribute in this facet of play while also making an impact in a role that he thoroughly enjoys as a ball-carrier.
Often described as a hybrid flank somewhere in between the traditional roles of a No 6 and 7 flank, Kolisi is a unique and effective operator when he’s firing at full throttle.
In the pre-season, Kolisi emphatically stated: ‘I need to be playing game in, game out to find my flow and really hit my best, and that is absolutely the ambition.’
After now settling in at the Sharks, that opportunity has presented itself, and will allow for the main thing to stay the main thing once again as he hones his focus on simply being in the best possible playing condition before heading into the Lions series.
There is also no doubt that he knows what is required. Before the 2019 World Cup, he was in a race against time to rediscover form and fitness after recovering from a knee injury, and he simply got better as that tournament went on.
These next five rounds of the Rainbow Cup present the ideal foundation for Kolisi to get back to doing what he does best, and to ensure there can be no questions around his selection in the Bok No 6 jersey.
Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will have no doubt about the sort of faith they can place in the Bok skipper, but nothing would delight them more to see Kolisi rediscovering some game-influencing mojo in the Rainbow Cup.
Such a prospect would certainly add to an ever-increasing sense of optimism at a time when several other leading World Cup winners have begun to return from injury or rebuild formidable form.