Siya Kolisi’s appointment as Springbok captain is based on merit rather than transformation, writes BRENDAN VENTER in his first SARugbymag.co.za column.
SA Rugby threw Rassie Erasmus a hospital pass by agreeing to the one-off Test match between the Springboks and Wales in America. The situation is far from ideal, but in fairness to Rassie he has not complained about it once publically. He rolled up his sleeves and simply got on with the job at hand.
The money-spinning encounter – which you cannot really call a Test match owing to the playing personnel picked – was arranged because SA Rugby is in a tight spot financially. Rassie duly selected an enlarged 43-man squad, with the Test series against England proving the main point of focus. The moment he needed to name two teams, there was always going to be a host of uncapped players.
The coaches are taking a punt on the 26-man group that has travelled to the US, which is basically an SA Barbarians team. The Springboks have sent their second-choice side to Washington, while Wales have assembled an experimental outfit at best, with the match falling outside of the Test window.
Some voices in Wales are calling this match a farce and it does devalue Test rugby when premier players are not selected. Where Ireland against New Zealand was a showcase of two of the best teams in the world in Chicago in 2016, Saturday’s match is in stark contrast because South Africa and Wales are not two of the top teams in the world at the moment and haven’t sent their best players.
Rassie, Jacques Nienaber, Matt Proudfoot and Mzwandile Stick will have the players for a very short time before the Tests start and the players have to bring their form with them. Ahead of the Welsh clash, the model for the Springboks would basically be a team of hungry ball-carriers, who are highly motivated to perform.
The duel in the US capital – with an eye on growing the game in America – comes down to selection instead of preparation. Rassie and his staff will be hoping they picked the right young players for the American adventure. I believe we should regard this fixture as a trial match and see how good the young kids, who’ve been selected to wear the green and gold, can be.
Rassie has decided not to build on the continuity Allister Coetzee put in place. The one question we have to ask is, was everything Allister did during his two-year tenure at the helm of the national team wrong? For me, the answer would be no, but Rassie chose not to go with continuity and decided to start over completely. However, there have also been injuries to the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, Lood de Jager and Warren Whiteley, which has affected continuity as well.
Rassie’s decision to name Siya Kolisi as Springbok captain for the three-Test series against the English is a very good choice. Within the context of South African sport we talk about transformation and quotas, but Siya is definitely a first-choice starter on merit.
Siya’s appointment is neither a transformation move nor Rassie trying to do the right thing from a political standpoint. His appointment as the first black African Test captain for South Africa is good for our country, but the responsibility has been afforded to an unbelievable person in the team.
In the mould of former Springbok captains Gary Teichmann and John Smit, Siya boasts the ability to glue the team together and unite players from all the different franchises. Everybody likes and respects Siya, which is what makes him a unanimous choice. In saying that, I was involved as a consultant for many of last year’s Bok matches and Eben did a great job as captain for South Africa.
From a playing point of view, Siya has experienced a dip in form this season, but he has shown us what he can do over a prolonged period of time. The jersey must be his for the next four or five years.
As a coach, you need to tell Siya: ‘You are my man and I know form is temporary and class is permanent. You’ve shown me in the past what you can do. I believe and trust in you, so just go out and perform.’
– Venter is currently working at his medical practice in the Strand. He has coached with Italy, the Springboks, London Irish, the Sharks, the Stormers and Saracens. Follow him @BrendanVenter