Kolisi­wants South Africato push on from beat­ing the All Blacks

Spring­bok cap­tain took time to set­tle into role with ex­tra scru­tiny it brings

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - RUGBY - ANDY BULL

There is only one man still playing the game who knows what it is like to lead a team to vic­tory over the All Blacks in New Zealand – Siya Kolisi. The hand­ful of oth­ers who have done it this cen­tury have all quit. John Eales, Martin John­son, Thierry Dusautoir, John Smit and Sam War­bur­ton.

Fa­mous names and some com­pany for South Africa’s new cap­tain. Kolisi has played 37 Tests but is only six months into the job and it still feels as if he is start­ing out. The match against Eng­land will be the first he has ever played at Twick­en­ham but the place will not seem quite so in­tim­i­dat­ing given he has got the ex­pe­ri­ence of that fa­mous win in Welling­ton to draw on.

“That was pretty spe­cial from us as a team,” Kolisi says of the 36-34 vic­tory from six weeks ago. Es­pe­cially be­cause they had just lost two games in a row, away to Ar­gentina and Aus­tralia, so “no one ex­pected us to per­form like that”.

The vic­tory “gave us be­lief in that we set the stan­dard there. We look at each other now and we know we want to be bet­ter than that. We know what we are ca­pa­ble of, so we’ve got to keep on striv­ing to im­prove and get bet­ter each and ev­ery sin­gle week.”

He feels they did play even bet­ter again in the re­turn leg against New Zealand two weeks later, when they lost by two points.

Ef­fort

That is South Africa’s team mantra now that Rassie Eras­mus has taken over as the coach. “That’s what he wants from us,” Kolisi says, “mak­ing sure you give ev­ery­thing you can, ef­fort is the most im­por­tant thing. That’s what he judges us on”.

Kolisi finds this need to get bet­ter ev­ery day “the tough­est thing about be­ing a pro­fes­sional sports­man”. It also seems to be the way he copes with the in­tense and un­usual pres­sure of be­ing South Africa’s first black cap­tain. Eras­mus has said be­fore the “enor­mous emo­tional pres­sure” Kolisi was un­der this sum­mer “af­fected his game a lit­tle bit”.

“It can be very tough to be Spring­bok cap­tain,” Kolisi says. He and his wife, Rachel, be­came fa­mous all of a sud­den and they have copped the lot on so­cial me­dia, where her ev­ery stray com­ment gets turned into tabloid fod­der. As the sea­son has worn on, though, Eras­mus has helped Kolisi find a way to cope with his new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and the ex­tra scru­tiny he is un­der.

“The coach has made my job so much eas­ier be­cause his main fo­cus is for me to put in the best I can for as long as I’m on the field, so that’s what I’ve been try­ing to fo­cus on, not ev­ery­thing else out­side the field.”

Kolisi has come so far so fast it is easy to for­get how ex­tra­or­di­nary his story is un­til he re­minds you of it.

Such as when he says the only mem­o­ries he has of watch­ing South Africa play at Twick­en­ham are from the last few years be­cause “when I was young, I did not have a TV at home”. He is mak­ing up for that now.

Laid­back

He knows Eng­land’s num­ber eight Mark Wil­son from watch­ing him on TV: “I saw him play against Toulon for the Fal­cons and they won in the last minute. It wasn’t anal­y­sis. I was just watch­ing a rugby game. I think it was two weeks after we played in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship and I was hav­ing a braai [bar­be­cue] and watch­ing the game.”

Which sounds pretty laid back. And Kolisi says he is a “happy” and “chilled” sort of cap­tain, un­til he gets out on the field any­way. He even be­came friends with some of the English play­ers dur­ing their se­ries last sum­mer.

“We had a cou­ple of sing-songs and I have been chat­ting to them ev­ery now and then, Tom Curry sends me a mes­sage and Maro Itoje. That is the most amaz­ing thing about rugby, we bash each other up for 80 min­utes and af­ter­wards we chat and get to know each other.” In some ways, Kolisi’s is a very dif­fer­ent sort of South Africa team, in oth­ers they are just the same. – Guardian

‘‘ We set the stan­dard there. We look at each other now and we know we want to be bet­ter than that. We know what we are ca­pa­ble of

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