‘Rassie aligned with Kolisi plans’

Siya Kolisi’s welcome media conference at the Sharks revealed discussions around leadership, on-field performance, the WP release fee and conversations with Rassie Erasmus, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Kolisi and Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee were understandably all smiles during yesterday’s first media briefings as the Springbok captain was welcomed to Durban.

For Coetzee, the headline signing is something to be celebrated and a sign that the Sharks are committed to building a plan for sustainable success.

It’s also about working with Kolisi to ensure they are able to get the best out of the experienced loose forward both on and off the field.

The form and well-being of the 29-year-old is obviously also critical in a national context, with Erasmus – in his capacity as director of rugby – and Bok coach Jacques Nienaber keeping a close eye on the captain who led the Springboks to World Cup glory.

‘I had a chat to Rassie, so he’s pretty aligned with what we’re doing and the plans for Siya,’ Coetzee commented. ‘If we create an environment for Siya to thrive in, and we take the pressure off, and we put the support around him, then we know he’s the best leader in world rugby and will command a place in any team. So, there’s a shared responsibility.’

Coetzee confirmed part of this plan would be for the Sharks to not burden Kolisi with the extra responsibility of captaincy, which will remain in the hands of World Cup-winning teammate Lukhanyo Am.

‘Lukhanyo has also done unbelievably well as captain. That also makes the decision easy. My discussion with Siya, and like we do with all our players, revolves around the fact we want to treat him unbelievably well and get the best out of him. When it comes to Siya, he doesn’t need more pressure, and so although it would have been easy to make him captain, it wouldn’t have made sense right now.’

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Commenting on any talk around leadership, Kolisi emphasised that he was happy to just focus primarily on a return to fitness and form at franchise level.

‘I don’t wake up and think I want to be captain, I wake up and I just love playing rugby. That’s the most important thing to me, and that’s why I wake up everyone morning wanting to be a Springbok.

‘I want to ensure I’m performing because I love the game, and coming here was about taking on a new challenge. I have to produce on the field, and play well, and I believe this environment will get me there.

‘When I did speak to coach Rassie all he said was just make sure the main thing stays the main thing, which is the motto we had with the Springboks,’ Kolisi added. ‘As long as you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing, that’s the most important thing, and it doesn’t matter where you may be playing.’

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Kolisi also reflected on the past year, and admitted there were numerous factors that prevented him from finding any rhythm or momentum in his play.

‘For me, I believe I’m a player who needs to play five games in a row, especially at the beginning of the season. I didn’t get that last year; for example, the first game back after the World Cup I was injured, and I’d had no real pre-season. After that, the season was stopped.

‘Then just after that I injured my hamstring in the game against the Pumas, then Covid hit my family. So there was never consistency. That played a huge role, and although a lot of people say I’m doing too much stuff off the field, I know myself and I will never take on too much because that’s the stuff that encourages me to work even harder because I know rugby opens those doors for me …

‘So, it’s not that, it was just about game time and consistency that was lacking. That’s why I’m excited to be here at the Sharks. The coaches have already said they just want me to get as fit as possible so I can deliver on the field. I know last year was difficult for me, you can’t hide it and the stats show it,’ he added.

‘I’m my biggest critic and I know that I need to work hard and fight for my place, nothing is going to be handed to me. Coach Sean [Everitt] said I just need to train hard, make sure I’m fit, and then I know I’m capable of doing anything. So I just need to have a good pre-season, and then when I’m ready I’ll have a chance to play. ‘

Discussing his departure from WP Rugby after an 11-year career in Cape Town, Kolisi admitted that it was tough to say goodbye, but revealed that he in fact ‘took care of’ the transfer fee himself in order to expedite the move to the Sharks.

‘They [WP Rugby] offered me something and I said “No, I won’t accept it”. I asked if it’s possible for me to leave earlier. There was obviously a transfer fee and that is something I had to take care of myself.

‘It was difficult, I’ve been there for 11 years. But at the same time I felt like it’s time for me, and the timing is perfect. I had to have proper discussions with people close to me and my family. We’d also just got new schools for the kids and stuff like that, and we have a house in Cape Town.

‘It was tough to say goodbye, but I woke up happy today, people are welcoming here. And I’m focusing on the road ahead, I want to bring a good energy to the guys. I’m here to learn and to play my part in this great union.

‘There are so many great people who have called me to say welcome, guys like John [Smit] and Beast [Mtawarira], who asked if I need some chicken,’ he laughed. ‘There are other guys like JP [Pietersen] who is still here too. I have to do my part.’

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Craig Lewis