VIDEO: Siya - From court jester to éminence grise
Siyamthanda Kolisi will captain South Africa for the 50th time in a Test match, when he leads them out against Tonga in a World Cup encounter in Marseille on Sunday.
In the hyped build-up to a #MustWin Round Four encounter for the defending champions – who must bag a full-house five points and a substantial points differential to keep their play-off dreams alive – the significant milestone about to be achieved by Kolisi almost slipped unnoticed under the radar.
It will also be his 80th Test cap for his country.
On Friday, at the team’s base in the seaside hamlet of Les Sablettes in the Toulon region, Kolisi opened up about the long journey from fresh-faced 21-year-old who made his debut against Scotland in Nelspruit in June 2013, to a well-established, well-respected leader of his country.
As the second-most capped captain – his 50th Test as team leader is only behind John Smit’s 83 – he will also join two-time World Cup winner Os du Durandt in 13th place on the list of most capped Boks of all time.
His first 13 Test appearances were all off the bench, with his first start in an international against Ireland at Newlands in a 20-26 loss in June 2016.
In his 49 Tests as captain, Kolisi has been on the winning side in 32 internationals – including the 2019 World Cup Final, with a win percentage of 65.
“It’s honestly something I never dreamed of, that I never thought would happen,” he responded to a question from @rugby365com..
“Where I come from [Zwide, iBhayi, a township in Port Elizabeth], I didn’t have dreams like that.
“I played rugby because I enjoyed it.
“I played it because it kept me out of trouble and I played it because most of my friends played it.
“I definitely didn’t think I would be sitting here now.”
He said the journey – from when he was first named Stormers captain in February 2017, to his 50 Test cap as Bok skipper – was a tough voyage, often through his own doing.
“I’ve always been the joker in the team, the naughty one,” he told @rugby365com.
“Coach Fleckie [Robbie Fleck] came to my wedding and he heard me speak.
“After the wedding, he said: ‘I think you should lead the team’.
“He gave me the captaincy after that, but it took a while.
“I would always be the joker, the last one at the party, the drunkest one in the room, and now I must be something different.
“It took a while but I just try to be myself in everything I do.”
(WATCH as Siya Kolisi talks to @king365ed about his journey from a drunken clown to Springbok captain and one of the country’s most respected senior statesmen…)
He became the first black player to captain a Springbok team in a Test, against England at Ellis Park in June 2018 – when Rassie Erasmus (now Director of Rugby, then coach) appointed him.
“Here at the Springboks, that was tough,” he said of the transition from player to leader.
“It was really difficult at the beginning because I don’t think there’s any greater honour, other than playing for the Springboks, to captain a team like this with its history and everything.
“Being the first black captain, it was difficult.
“In my mind, I was being captain of the Springboks, it’s a big thing already, but for so many people it meant so much more and I didn’t understand the weight of it.
“I was fortunate to have the players we have in the group – Duane [Vermeulen], Eben [Etzebeth] who captained the team, Pieter-Steph [du Toit], Handre Pollard.
“I honestly wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have the guys that we have and also the coaching staff.
“Coach Rassie [Erasmus] understood. He knows me. He’s known me since I was 17 years old, and Jacques [Nienaber, current coach] since I was 18.
“They know what kind of person I am and they built things around me to help me.
“My role hasn’t changed since that first game that I played. It’s simple; I just have to play well and talk to the ref.
“Honestly, without the team that we have, the players and the management, I don’t think I would have lasted.”
He said Siya Kolisi the person and Siya Kolisi the captain are two separate beings.
“I am always Siya the human being before anything else,” he said.
“When I’m a captain I have to talk to the ref, but other than that I try to be myself at all times.
“It is hard. You can’t tell people what to think of you but I see myself as Siya at all times.
“You can’t see yourself because of your position.
“That is going to go away, but you must be constantly the same person, and if you’re not you need to have good people around you who’ll tell you you’re acting like what people are saying about you.
“I try and be Siya at all times.”
He will share the occasion with his wife Rachel Kolisi and their children, Nicholas and Keziah.
However, his father and brother will not be at the game.
“I only found out [about it being the 50th Test as captain] when they announced the team.
“If I’d known maybe I’d have brought them but they will come later hopefully if we stay in the competition.”
* Picture credit: @Springboks