DYLAN JACK looks at how Springbok captain Siya Kolisi’s long-anticipated departure from Western Province to the Sharks will impact both teams.
As reported on SARugbymag.co.za as far back as 8 January, Kolisi is set to make the switch from Cape Town to Durban after an 11-year journey, spanning his entire professional rugby career to date.
Kolisi’s move has become somewhat of an ‘open secret’, and on Sunday, WP Rugby sent out a statement confirming the 29-year-old’s departure.
‘Kolisi’s current contract was set to come to an end in October 2021 and although the union did everything possible to re-sign him, he chose not to take it up and has been released early from his contract, upon acceptance of a transfer fee,’ a statement read.
While it may be true that WP Rugby was desperate to hold onto their star man, I would argue that the organisation could have shown it by making a far better attempt at securing the MVM Holdings Investment.
It is no secret that the consortium’s involvement with the Sharks has proved key in convincing Kolisi to move to Durban. This is especially considering that part of the consortium is Vincent Mai (chairman and CEO of Cranemere LLC), who hails from the Eastern Cape and has a strong bond with Kolisi. Among Masotti’s partners is also Michael Yormark, the president of Roc Nation Sports International, who have Kolisi on their books.
Much like the MVM deal itself, Western Province’s loss will be the Sharks’ gain. It goes without saying that in Kolisi, the Sharks have signed a natural leader as well as one of rugby’s most marketable players.
The key for the Sharks will lie in keeping Kolisi fit and on the field. The 29-year-old has had an injury-hit couple of years, which included two different knee injuries at the start of the 2019 and 2020 seasons as well as a grade one hamstring tear against the Pumas in Super Rugby Unlocked.
Taking both his injuries and the Covid-19 disruptions in 2020, Kolisi has played the full 80 minutes just twice since the World Cup final and in total has played 395 minutes out of a potential 1280 minutes of domestic rugby.
However, at his best Kolisi is, as he was famously described by the late Kaunda Ntunja, a ‘cement truck without a reverse gear’. He not only offers an option as a strong ball carrier in the wide channels, but does more than his fair share of nitty-gritty work in defence and at the breakdown.
Captain Fantastic 🇿🇦
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) August 25, 2018
The Sharks will have a slight conundrum as to where they deploy their new signing. Much like a number of their loose-forwards, Kolisi is comfortable playing at both openside flank and No 8. What this does mean, is that there is plenty of competition for both places, with the likes of Sikhumbuzo Notshe, James Venter, Dylan Richardson and Phepsi Buthelezi all vying for those positions.
It is likely that Kolisi will continue in his role at openside flanker, given how valued Notshe is within the team.
What the Sharks could use now, is a natural blindside flanker. Henco Venter was deployed in the role towards the end of the Currie Cup and he did very well, but one gets the sense that he is more adept at playing in a freer role at No 8, similarly to how he played at the Cheetahs. Considering that the Sharks will be playing against European opposition in the expanded PRO Rugby tournament, it makes a workhorse player in the form of a Tyler Paul even more valuable.
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) August 26, 2017
Perhaps the answer for that lies in keeping Thembelani Bholi on a long-term contract. The former Kings flanker was mostly used from the bench in the domestic season, but had an impact almost every time he was on the park. He certainly showed that he can move bodies from ruck to ruck and his 1,9m frame makes him another lineout option.
Regardless, what this does ultimately mean for the Sharks is that they have a host of multi-functional loose-forwards. This, in turn, gives them both an incredible amount of depth and competition for places, which is positive when joining a competition as uncompromising as the PRO14.
As far the leadership of the Sharks goes, one would expect Lukhanyo Am to continue in his role as captain. Perhaps this could be a positive for Kolisi, taking the pressure off him at domestic level and allowing him to focus more on his own game and his own contribution to the team.
As for Western Province, there will naturally be fears of a senior player exodus, given that Kolisi’s exit has followed so soon after the departure of another loose-forward in Jaco Coetzee, who was also released early from his contract to join Bath in England.
To allay those fears, while the likes of Bongi Mbonambi and Juarno Augustus are still being heavily linked with moves away, reports suggest that Province stand a good chance of holding onto World Cup-winning props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe.
As far as their depth at loose-forward goes, they would still have two very promising, albeit slightly green, openside flankers in Nama Xaba and Marcel Theunissen, who were both successfully blooded into the team during the recent Super Rugby Unlocked and Currie Cup season.
Whether those two players can fill Kolisi’s shoes, or whether Province opts to sign a replacement remains to be seen.
Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images