Skipper Siya Kolisi will be tasked with tackling a new role as the Springboks kick off their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Durban.
Over the course of the June series against England, the media and public couldn’t get enough of Kolisi. Having been named as the Boks’ first black Test captain, it was a historic achievement that was celebrated with about as much fervour as any on-field achievement.
The humble 27-year-old is not a fan of the spotlight, but took the responsibility of the captaincy in his stride, while regularly reiterating that he was the sort of skipper who wanted to lead through his actions on the field.
Kolisi enjoyed a solid series against England, having settled in at openside flank, where he was challenged to make an impact at the breakdown, while his calming influence as captain was a key factor as the Boks made a winning comeback in the first two Tests.
Since then, the fanfare surrounding Kolisi’s captaincy has naturally died down, and there is a sense that he now has an opportunity to focus a little more exclusively on his personal game.
It was a point that Rassie Erasmus drilled home when mentioning last week that it had been an automatic choice to retain Kolisi as captain for the Rugby Championship.
‘The way Siya carried himself through a lot of emotional stuff on his shoulders, I think he carried it well and played relatively well. I think you’ll see a Siya now who starts playing really well, having seen how he has been training for the last few weeks. I think all the hoo-ha around the captaincy is starting to become normal now.’
There has long been debate about whether Kolisi’s best position is at No 6 or 7, with the Stormers stalwart not quite boasting the physicality of a blindside bruiser, while he doesn’t have the natural breakdown strengths of an out-and-out openside flanker.
In many respects, Kolisi is a hybrid between the two, but as the Boks head into Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina, he is set to shift into the No 7 jersey, where he will need to embrace his ball-carrying responsibilities.
One of the aspects that stood out about the Boks in the first two Tests against England was their physicality and intent when it came to cleaning at the rucks in order to provide quick ball for dynamic scrumhalf Faf de Klerk.
The hosts weren’t quite as accurate in this facet of play during the third and final Test at a rain-soaked Newlands, but it can’t be forgotten that during the course of that series, the Boks did boast the back-row presence of physical forwards such as Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Jean-Luc du Preez.
The Springboks are set to kick off the Rugby Championship with a very different composition to the loose trio as Francois Louw is in line to slot in as a specialist openside flanker, while Warren Whiteley will take over as a mobile, linking No 8.
It places an additional onus on Kolisi to make a step up on the physical front, although another factor to consider is that he will be considerably backed up in that regard by the presence of fit-again forwards Malcolm Marx and Eben Etzebeth.
The influence of Marx and Louw at the breakdown should also help negate the absence of Vermeulen, who underlined his ability to win crucial turnovers during the England series.
As the one constant in the Bok back row, though, Kolisi will need to display his adaptability in this Rugby Championship, while continuing to lead the team with an assured presence.
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