The Springbok captaincy has empowered Siya Kolisi as a player, but he self-admittedly remains on a learning curve as a Test leader, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Heading out to dinner in Port Elizabeth one night last week, a colleague and I bumped into Kolisi. In typical fashion, he warmly greeted us as we headed towards the same restaurant of choice in the Friendly City.
It was a local spot that had also been chosen by a few of the Wallabies players, and again Kolisi went over with a smile at the ready to greet the group that would be his opponents in just a few days’ time.
It’s trademark Kolisi. Friendly, down-to-earth and unchanged from the hysteria that closely followed his appointment as the Springboks’ first-ever black African Test skipper. Before every captain’s press conference, he still makes the effort to personally greet as many of the journalists as time will allow.
On the field of play, though, Kolisi’s genial demeanour has made way for an almost new-found sense of intensity and determination.
If there were any concerns over his form during parts of Super Rugby, or perhaps at the start of the international season, those have been banished through a sequence of barnstorming performances in recent weeks.
Kolisi was at it again just this past Saturday, with the Bok skipper producing a number of rampaging runs, while also executing some crucial counter-rucks and powerful hits on defence.
According to Sanzaar’s statistics, he finished with 74m made from six carries, completed two clean breaks and 12 tackles, while also winning a couple of turnovers.
In terms of the overall player stats from the tournament, he is the leading forward for clean breaks (eight; equal rank seventh), defenders beaten (19; equal rank seventh) and for metres carried (241; rank ninth). Just for good measure, he’s also ranked equal fifth for tackles won (55).
When you take stock, it’s no wonder that coach Rassie Erasmus wholeheartedly acknowledged on the eve of the Port Elizabeth Test that Kolisi remained a front-runner to lead the team through to next year’s World Cup.
‘A big scene was made out of him getting the captaincy in June. He had to handle a lot of extra pressure. His game almost suffered as a result, but 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.’
It speaks directly to Kolisi’s steadfast desire to lead the team through actions rather than words. He wants to walk the talk.
It’s also why the 27-year-old insists that he doesn’t want to put any extra pressure, presumption or expectation on himself to captain the team in the long term.
Kolisi knows that his first priority is to ensure he warrants his selection in the starting lineup based solely on the level of his performances, and it can’t be a coincidence that he is suddenly playing the best rugby of his Test career.
Just a few short weeks ago, Kolisi also openly acknowledged that he was continuing to learn about the captaincy job, and about specifically how best to interact with referees and when to impose himself or not.
At regular stages this season, we’ve also seen Kolisi opting to follow his gut by turning down kickable shots at goals to instead set up an attacking lineout. In time, and particularly with the World Cup in mind, you may find he begins to prioritise every opportunity for three points.
This is all part of Kolisi’s learning curve as captain. It’s a challenge that the smiling skipper is happy to tackle without losing sight of who he is, while remaining cognisant of the requirements and responsibilities that come with the job.
The good news is that the captaincy currently looks to be a very good fit for the flanker who is enjoying a rich vein of form. Long may it continue.
Photo: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images