Be­com­ing a man and leader

Siya Kolisi has had it tough, but has won 100 Su­per Rugby caps

Sunday Times - - Sport Rugby - By CRAIG RAY

As a leader I put my­self un­der huge pres­sure to per­form ev­ery week

● Siya Kolisi’s mile­stone in reach­ing 100 Su­per Rugby caps yes­ter­day feels hum­drum in this age of seem­ingly end­less games and never-end­ing sea­sons, but his story is dif­fer­ent. That he played one Su­per Rugby match is amaz­ing; play­ing 100 is phe­nom­e­nal.

Six years af­ter mak­ing his de­but off the bench against the Hur­ri­canes as a re­place­ment for in­jured Schalk Burger, Kolisi led the Storm­ers against the Bulls yes­ter­day. It’s been an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney from poverty.

“I never thought there would be an­other 99 games when I made my de­but,” Kolisi says. “It was a bit­ter­sweet day for me be­cause I came on as a re­place­ment for my child­hood hero Schalk Burger. He suf­fered a bad knee in­jury early in the match.

“But An­dries Bekker put his arm around me and Jean de Vil­liers also had a few words. They told me to fo­cus on a few things and do them well. It was a spe­cial day.”

Kolisi was born to a 16-year-old mother in the Port El­iz­a­beth town­ship of Zwide and a fa­ther who was in ma­tric. Af­ter mar­ry­ing an­other man and hav­ing two more chil­dren, his mother, Phakama, died when he was 15.

His fa­ther Feza­kele, barely old enough to fend for him­self, was not ac­tive in his life. It was left to his grand­mother Nolu­lamile to raise him.

The story of be­ing a tal­ented kid spot­ted play­ing on a dusty field in Zwide, to a schol­ar­ship at Grey High in Port El­iz­a­beth, SA Schools and on to pro­vin­cial and in­ter­na­tional rugby is not a usual one.

Yet here he is, cap­tain of the Storm­ers, capped Spring­bok, hus­band, fa­ther and adopted guardian to two sib­lings, all at age 26. In ev­ery way Kolisi has be­come a strong man and car­ing leader.

Mar­ried to Rachel, who is white, the cou­ple have faced sting­ing racial prej­u­dice, yet risen above it.

The Koli­sis are a mod­ern fam­ily and an in­spi­ra­tional South African story.

“Spir­i­tu­ally I have grown a lot be­cause my wife is a church­go­ing per­son and she has guided me,” Kolisi says. “It was some­thing I strug­gled with when I was younger.

“Church and spir­i­tu­al­ity keep me calm and peace­ful and my fam­ily gives me great joy. When they are happy then I am happy.

“Rachel has been amaz­ing be­cause she took all of this on and has taken some racial abuse on so­cial me­dia, which isn’t easy.

“Hon­estly, it doesn’t af­fect me be­cause I know what we have is real, how much she means to me and how much she means to our fam­ily.”

One of the things Siya refers to is rais­ing his much younger brother and sis­ter who he legally adopted sev­eral years ago.

“In 2012 when I was with the Boks, I went to Zwide to look for them, be­cause I hadn’t seen them in years,” Kolisi says. “I found a cousin who told me where my brother and sis­ter were. They were at school at the time but I came back later and met them. You can imag­ine how emo­tional it was.

“My lit­tle sis­ter didn’t know me. She had been crawl­ing when I last saw her.

Sta­bil­ity on the field

“I told the woman tak­ing care of them that I was go­ing to take them for De­cem­ber hol­i­days that year, which I did. But af­ter­wards I said, ‘I can’t send them back.’

“But you have to go through a le­gal process, which I started af­ter that hol­i­day. It took about 18 months, but I fi­nally legally adopted them.”

That home sta­bil­ity has led to sta­bil­ity on the field, which has the added pres­sure of cap­tain­ing a Storm­ers side that is al­ways ex­pected to do well in the com­pe­ti­tion.

“In 2016 Fleckie (coach Rob­bie Fleck) said I needed to re­alise that I was now a se­nior player in the side. He was blunt. I had to get my act to­gether,” Kolisi says.

“It made me switch my men­tal­ity. I re­alised that I had to stop hid­ing and act­ing like a child in the team. I had to man up and show lead­er­ship be­cause even though I was 24, I was al­ready quite ex­pe­ri­enced.

“The cap­taincy has helped my rugby in a mas­sive way. I’m not some­one who gives Brave­heart speeches. I’m all about deeds.

“I’ve come to re­alise that you won’t play well in ev­ery game. It’s some­thing I’ve had to learn to cope with be­cause as a leader I put my­self un­der huge pres­sure to per­form ev­ery week. I’m learn­ing to deal with that per­sonal pres­sure and the cap­taincy.

“Also, things at home have forced me to be a bet­ter man and a role model. I want to set a pos­i­tive ex­am­ple — I want to be my kids' hero and an in­spi­ra­tion for all South Africans.”

Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages

Siya Kolisi, cap­tain of the Storm­ers, won his 100th Su­per Rugby cap yes­ter­day.

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