Siya Kolisi has recounted how a ‘comical’ moment during his Springbok debut will help underpin his style of captaincy, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Johannesburg.
It’s been just over a week since Kolisi was named as the Boks’ 61st Test captain, and by all accounts, he is quickly becoming a big hit with both the public and press.
If Kolisi is feeling any nerves on the eve of his first Test as captain, he showed no signs of it as he fronted up to the media in Johannesburg on Friday.
Like a seasoned pro in terms of public relations, Kolisi drew plenty of laughs and smiles as he answered questions with refreshing honesty, humour and humility, which have all been major contributing factors to his rapid rise as a leader.
Five years ago – almost to the day – Kolisi was making his Test debut as a fresh-faced 21-year-old against Scotland in Nelspruit, with the Boks having to overturn an 11-point deficit early in the second half to eventually claim a 30-17 victory.
On Friday, Kolisi took up the tale: ‘I remember everything about my debut. I was sitting on the bench, and I wasn’t watching the game early on; I was drinking water and spitting it out for some reason, probably because I was so nervous. Someone suddenly said, “Siya you must get up, someone is down [with injury]”. It was about five minutes into the game, and so I put my gum guard on and got ready to run on.
‘[Former Bok assistant coach] Johann van Graan quickly pulled me aside first, though, and just told me to forget everything because I had been struggling a bit in the week with getting to know all the new stuff. He just told me to do what I do, and every time I got the ball – and it came my way all day – I just ran with it. Coming on, a guy like Eben [Etzebeth] – his hand covered my whole head – told me that he had my back, and Bryan [Habana] and Jean [de Villiers] also gave me that [kind of support].’
Kolisi recalls how the Boks trailed by four points at half-time, and then 17-6 just after the restart, but De Villiers – who was then captain of the team – refused to panic.
‘It was a tough game, we were trailing against Scotland, I came on and they kept on scoring. I remember at half-time, Jean said we have to score first in the second half to win this game. As we went on [in the second half], Scotland scored first, and he just started laughing. I was panicking and I was like “no, this can’t be happening, we are the Springboks”.
‘Jean just stayed calm, though, and said we would win in the end, which we did. After the game, I asked him why he was laughing, and he just said that he couldn’t show me how much he was panicking.
‘So this weekend, I will just tell the guys to enjoy themselves, they are all here for a reason, because there’s something special in them, and they must make the most of that and use every opportunity.’
Kolisi added that he had been inspired by all the messages of support since his appointment as Bok captain, while highlighting the positive energy in the Bok camp.
‘I think the most important thing is to have the backing of your teammates, and that’s what I’ve been feeling this whole week. The guys know who I am, they know I’m not a big talker, but I’ll try lead by my actions on the field.’
Photo: Manus van Dyk/Gallo Images