Rassie Erasmus says that Siya Kolisi has the potential to lead the Springboks at the 2019 World Cup. JON CARDINELLI in Port Elizabeth reports.
There was a lot of debate around the Bok captaincy when Erasmus took the reins as head coach earlier this year. Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth, players who led the side in 2017, were unavailable for the June Tests due to long-term injuries. Duane Vermeulen and Kolisi were rated the best contenders for the job. In the end, Erasmus favoured the latter.
Following the Boks’ 2-1 series win over England, Erasmus retained Kolisi as his captain for the duration of the Rugby Championship. When he was asked about that decision on the eve of the tournament, he described it as ‘a no-brainer’.
Since then, the Boks have obtained some mixed results. They beat the Pumas convincingly in Durban, but then suffered a record loss in Argentina. They fell six points short of beating the Wallabies in Australia, but then went on to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time since 2009.
Kolisi was at the helm for all four matches. The 27-year-old has said on more than one occasion that he has much to learn as a skipper, and that he has relied heavily on his leadership group over the past few months.
Many, Erasmus included, will be hoping that Kolisi and the senior core continue to grow in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup. A lot can happen over the next 10 Tests, but at this stage it appears as if Kolisi is the front-runner to captain the Boks in Japan next year.
‘Siya definitely has the potential,’ said Erasmus when he was asked about it on Thursday. ‘A big scene was made out of him getting the captaincy [and becoming the first black African Bok captain in Test history] in June. He had to handle a lot of extra pressure. His game almost suffered as a result.
‘He’s upped his game since then. Sheesh, I don’t think people really appreciate all that he does.
‘He’s creative with the ball and really good at the breakdown. His defensive stats are up there. He’s doing well in the mauls. He’s become a real all-rounder.
‘If he keeps on growing in this manner, he’s definitely going to be one of the options.’
History, however, shows that the Boks have erred in backing one skipper a year out from a World Cup tournament. John Smit wasn’t the Boks’ best hooker in the lead-up to the 2011 tournament. Jean de Villiers bounced back from a serious injury in the period leading up to the 2015 showpiece, but never regained his previous form. Perhaps this is the reason why Erasmus is so reluctant to say that Kolisi will lead the side for certain in 2019.
The Bok coach reminded reporters that a lot can change in 12 months, and that it wasn’t too long ago when his own future was in the spotlight.
Erasmus came in for fierce criticism following the losses to Argentina in Mendoza and Australia in Brisbane. The recent win against the All Blacks, however, has earned Erasmus, Kolisi and the players nothing but praise.
‘We can’t make that [captaincy] call right now,’ Erasmus said with a laugh. ‘You know, I could make that call now and then I’m not even there as coach next year. Look at how I was under the pump two weeks ago.
‘Let’s take it week-by-week for now. Next year, going into the Rugby Championship, we should know who our captain is.
‘But hell, going by what he’s done thus far, Siya is a strong contender. He’s been very impressive.’
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