Siya Kolisi was the logical choice as Springbok captain for the Tests against England, but the significance of the appointment cannot be underestimated, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In fairness, new Bok coach Rassie Erasmus has begun his pre-season tenure by ticking most of the right boxes.
Over the past few months, Erasmus has undertaken meticulous preparation for the June Test window, while beginning to establish much-needed open working relationships with the South African franchises.
Over the weekend, the Bok coach named his first well-balanced squad, which rewarded in-form Super Rugby players, while covering certain shortfalls in key positions with the inclusion of highly-regarded overseas-based stars.
However, on Monday, Erasmus delivered a more significant masterstroke by naming Kolisi as captain for the headline three-Test series against England.
Pieter-Steph du Toit will lead the Boks in the one-off Test against Wales this Saturday, but Kolisi will then become captain No 61. He will also become the first black Test captain to lead South Africa. It will be a historic moment – overdue and fully deserved.
In 2017, SA Rugby magazine selected Kolisi as our ‘Man of the Year’. We documented his influence as a leader both on and off the field, while showcasing his position as a ‘man of the people’.
Having happily embraced the privileges and also the responsibilities that come with the platform provided as a Springbok rugby player, Kolisi is a fun-loving family man who readily engages with people and fans from all walks of life.
As some who grew up in a township, Kolisi strives to inspire youngsters from all walks of life.
‘People from that area might see me succeed and feel that they can enjoy similar success,’ he told SA Rugby magazine last year. ‘Having said that, it’s not only about black people or people from the township. In every race, there are people who have things and some who don’t. Not every white person had opportunities growing up. I want to inspire all those people.’
Such a comment says everything about the character of Kolisi. He has also served his dues as a leader on the field, having led the Stormers over the past two seasons, while he served as the Bok vice-captain for a significant part of last year.
Erasmus has done well to recognise that Kolisi’s time as Bok captain is now. Of course, a more conservative selection could have seen Duane Vermeulen installed as the new skipper.
However, Vermeulen is 31 years old and such an appointment would not have boasted any real longevity, while the details around his possible return as a permanently locally-based player have yet to be confirmed.
It would have also made little sense to ask young Handré Pollard to take on this responsibility at a stage when his full focus should be on dictating proceedings as the first-choice flyhalf.
Some might suggest that Kolisi should have been afforded the opportunity to concentrate solely on his form, but playing for the Boks has always brought out the best in him. Last year, he was one of the Springboks’ most consistently influential players, while he remains an obvious selection to start on the flank.
Of course, Kolisi will face some leadership competition when Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth return to fitness and captaincy contention, but he now has the chance to claim first rights to that role in the long term.
Kolisi’s appointment is also another victory in terms of SA Rugby’s much-spoken of commitment to transforming the game. It’s a selection that should inspire all sectors of the rugby-loving community in South Africa, and one that has been made purely on merit.
In short, it’s an inspired appointment that should be applauded.