Rassie Erasmus admits that it took him a long time to appreciate what Siya Kolisi’s appointment as Springbok skipper truly means to a diverse nation like South Africa. JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo reports.
What did it mean to South Africa when Kolisi became the first black African to lead the Boks in a Test match?
Those who were at Ellis Park on 9 June 2018 will remember the explosion that greeted Kolisi and his charges as they emerged from the stadium tunnel. The multiracial crowd rose as one when a team more representative of the country’s demographics crossed the Rubicon.
Thirteen months later, and Kolisi is on the cusp of two more remarkable achievements. This Saturday, he will become the first black African to lead the Boks in a World Cup final and earn his 50th Test cap for South Africa.
Comparisons have been drawn between the current side and that of 1995. There’s been a lot of focus on Kolisi and the unity of a multiracial team over the past week or so. There’s been a lot of talk about what another title victory could do to lift the mood of the country.
On Thursday, Erasmus spoke about the appointment of Kolisi and marvelled at how far the man has come. Carrying the weight of the nation on one’s shoulders, said Erasmus, is no mean feat.
‘It was never a plan of mine to appoint Siya just to get the country behind the Boks,’ the coach said. ‘At the time, Siya was the best performing captain in South Africa. That’s the reason he became captain of the Boks.
‘It was very sudden, though. I didn’t have a lot of conversations with him before that first Test against England. I was a bit naive in the sense that I didn’t know that this would become such a massive thing about the first black captain. All the emotional things that came with it caught myself as well as Siya off-guard.’
Erasmus reflected on the early part of the 2018 season when the captaincy took a toll on Kolisi’s performance. He continued to back Kolisi, though, and kept him in his plans, even after the captain broke down with a serious knee injury in early 2019.
‘He’s always been a great captain, but his form was a worry at one stage. He started to improve in late 2018.
‘Then he got that knee injury. We had to bring him back slowly this season ahead of the World Cup.
‘I think that the timing has been great,’ Erasmus said with regard to Kolisi’s return to form. ‘He’s been great in the past two games against Japan and Wales. We’ve also managed his game time really well.
‘I think that Siya’s primed to have a really good game in the final. It should be a wonderful occasion with it being his 50th Test. For me, it’s sunk in how big this is, the first black captain to lead the Boks in a World Cup final.
‘I’m not so naive any more,’ Erasmus added with a chuckle. ‘It’s a wonderful story. For him to handle all those emotional extras and a situation that I didn’t foresee is really something. Well done to him.’
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets