Best out of Kolisi

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XABANISA sports@city­press.co.za

Storm­ers cap­tain drives team af­ter at­tain­ing per­sonal goals, and it shows with turn­around in his ca­reer

Storm­ers coach Rob­bie Fleck knows the ex­act day when the idea to make Siya Kolisi his cap­tain for this year’s Super Rugby tour­na­ment firmed up in his mind. “I was at his wed­ding last year,” re­mem­bered Fleck. “When I sat and lis­tened to this guy humbly de­scrib­ing how he grew up in Port El­iz­a­beth and do­ing it from the heart ... I’d al­ways thought he was a leader, but that day at his wed­ding, it came through so pow­er­fully.

“He’s a re­luc­tant leader, but goes on what he sees and feels, and he’s an hon­est and hum­ble guy. He’s al­most like a rough di­a­mond as a leader, but, when he speaks, peo­ple lis­ten. The big­gest kudo to him is that it comes nat­u­rally to him, he doesn’t have to read books about it.”

Mainly be­cause he’s al­ways played like a typ­i­cal bruiser loose for­ward, it’s taken a while for the rest of the coun­try to take Kolisi’s claims as a leader as seriously as the folks in Cape Town. But Fleck cred­its it and his mar­riage as the two things re­spon­si­ble for his be­com­ing the ul­ti­mate war­rior, who rein­tro­duced him­self so ex­plo­sively to in­ter­na­tional rugby in the sec­ond test against the French last weekend.

While that dom­i­nant per­for­mance in Dur­ban – a day af­ter his 26th birth­day and pos­si­bly the best by an in­di­vid­ual Spring­bok in 10 years – has had its ev­ery nook and cranny ex­am­ined since, and it was so glo­ri­ous that its high­lights are still worth re­peat­ing.

Kolisi, who made his in­ter­na­tional debut in 2013, was in­volved in three of the Boks’ four tries, scor­ing from an in­ter­cept and mak­ing the passes for Jan Ser­fontein and El­ton Jan­tjies’ tries; he was in­dus­tri­ous and hard-hit­ting in the tackle; and an ab­so­lute nui­sance over the ball on the ground.

Fleck re­it­er­ated that his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were the rea­sons for the change.

“He’s floated around a bit over the past two years, but he’s sorted out a few things in his per­sonal life and, with the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of fam­ily and the cap­taincy, he’s made goals and seen a turn­around in his ca­reer.

“He drives the team cul­ture for us and he’s al­ways said he has to sort him­self out be­fore he leads the team and, be­cause he feels re­spon­si­ble for the team, it’s gone into his game as well,” Fleck said.

Two things caught the eye when it came to Kolisi’s per­for­mance in Dur­ban: he played as an all-pur­pose flanker and his skills, as shown by his fin­ger­tip pick-up of the ball en route to scor­ing his in­ter­cept try, were so much better than in the past.

The player im­me­di­ately ac­knowl­edged it af­ter the game: “We work hard ev­ery week on our skills [at the Storm­ers]. Be­fore and af­ter train­ing, we do our skills ses­sions. It’s some­thing we’re work­ing hard on from the unions al­ready.

“We know that it’s some­thing that’s lack­ing in South Africa, so we’re work­ing hard on it to make sure we get better. When we come here, we don’t have to work hard on ev­ery­thing – we just have to touch up on a few things.”

Fleck agreed: “His skills have come on mas­sively. His catch and pass skills were a weak­ness – he used to catch the ball on his chest – but he’s worked on his catch­ing and of­fload­ing skills so he no longer dies with the ball now, he’s look­ing to pass the ball in the air.”

It was also no­tice­able that Kolisi did his dam­age in the open­side flank’s jersey, a num­ber he hasn’t liked play­ing in be­cause it en­tailed pi­geon­hol­ing him as a fetcher. But his at­ti­tude to that has soft­ened of late.

“I just love rugby,” he said. “I used to worry about where I was play­ing a lot and, at that time, I didn’t play so well. But now it’s okay wher­ever I play as long as I get an op­por­tu­nity to play rugby. There are a lot of guys who would love to have this op­por­tu­nity, so I want to grab it with both hands.”

Fleck did his bit to ex­plain how a flanker’s role had moved on slightly from just being an open­side or blind­side: “The mod­ern-day flanker is quite in­dus­tri­ous in that he has to steal the ball, carry, be a line-out op­tion and de­fend.

“Siya is not quite quick enough to be an open­side and not quite big enough to be a blind­side, so he’s an in-be­tween sort of player. But he’s in­dus­tri­ous like a mod­ern-day flanker.”

PHOTO: GAVIN BARKER / BACKPAGEPIX

MAIN MAN Spring­bok Siya Kolisi scores a try in last week’s match, where he showed his true char­ac­ter and shone like a di­a­mond

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