Celebrating Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s first black rugby captain
London, Nov. 3, 2019 (AltAfrica)-For Siya Kolisi, Springbok (South African Rugby team) captain, it’s no longer a dream-its a reality. The first black captain of South Africa’s rugby team has led his team to conquer the world, white-washing almighty England 32-12 to lift the rugby world cup trophy for the third time
It felt as if it was written in the stars. Every 12 years South Africa have an unerring habit of winning Rugby World Cups and they have done so again, following up their triumphs of 1995 and 2007 with another prodigious display of power and might.
In some ways this was an even more special achievement, certainly for anyone who has ever dreamed of a black Springbok captain lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.
The image of Siya Kolisi hoisting the golden trophy into the clear Japanese night sky has become as treasured a picture as that of Nelson Mandela congratulating Francois Pienaar in Johannesburg 24 years ago, transcending such minor details as the scoreline and the sense of English disappointment.
This is an inspirational story of hope overcoming colossal odds and then, above all else, there is the tale of Kolisi, the sport-loving boy from the townships of Port Elizabeth who has conquered the world.
On the podium during the presentations, Kolisi could be seen trying to persuade his coach and longtime mentor, Rassie Erasmus, to collect the trophy with him. Erasmus has done an extraordinary job of resurrecting a struggling team but there was as much chance of him allowing Kolisi to win that battle as England had of escaping the onrushing South African juggernaut once it started to rumble.
In his post match reaction, Kolisi said South Africa’s Rugby World Cup glory on Saturday showed what the Rainbow Nation could achieve if it pulled together to face its challenges.
An emotional Kolisi, the first black man to captain the Springboks, devoted the Webb Ellis Cup to the people of South Africa and said he was so grateful for their support.
“We have so many problems in our country but a team like this, we come from different backgrounds, different races but we came together with one goal and we wanted to achieve it,” Kolisi said.
“I really hope we’ve done that for South Africa. Just shows that we can pull together if we want to achieve something,” said the captain, who led his team to a resounding 32-12 victory over England in Yokohama
That Kolisi has made it this far is a story of stoicism and self-belief. Kolisi stands as a critical link between the past and future.
When the Springboks triumphed in Johannesburg 24 years ago there was just one black player, Chester Williams, in the starting XV. By the time of their second World Cup win in 2007, there were still only two
In the starting XV that beat Wales in the semi-final, there were six black players: wingers S’busiso Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi, centre Lukhanyo Am, prop Tendai Mtawarira, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, and Kolisi. Of Rassie Erasmus’s squad of 31, 11 are black.
“His story is unique,” Hanyani Shimange, former Springboks prop, told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast.
“Previous generations of black rugby players were not given the same opportunities, purely because of South Africa’s laws. He’s living the dream of people who weren’t given the same opportunities as him.
“He’s grabbed those opportunities. He’s a good man, a humble individual.
“He’s got a lot of time for people, probably too much time in some instances. But he’s the same Siya he was six years ago. He loves rugby, and the team loves him.”
It would have been an unbelievable feat for England to beat a South African team with a captain with such a powerful and real story. Congratulations South Africa, unity is strength ✊🏾💛💚🇿🇦 #Springboks #England #RugbyWorldCup— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) November 2, 2019
Born on 16 June 1991, one day before the repeal of apartheid – brutal laws that enforced discrimination against black people in every aspect of their lives. Separate land. Separate public transport. Separate schools.
Kolisi was there at Small’s funeral. Williams’ image was on the shirts his team wore for their World Cup opener against the All Blacks. In Kolisi’s team, the legacy of that old generation is tangible.
Siya Kolisi watched the 2007 World Cup final from a tavern because he didn’t have a TV at home … 12 years later Siya captains his country to a World Cup title in Japan … What a story … He dreamt about his next meal not lifting the WC !!! #RWC2019final— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) November 2, 2019
Born to teenage parents in the poor township of Zwide, just outside Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape, he was brought up by his grandmother, who cleaned kitchens to make ends meet.
Bed was a pile of cushions on the living-room floor. Rugby was on dirt fields. When he went to his first provincial trials he played in boxer shorts, because he had no other kit.
His father Fezakel was a centre, his grandfather a player of pace too. Aged 12, the young Kolisi was spotted by Andrew Hayidakis, a coach at the exclusive private school Grey, and offered a full scholarship.
When you are from Zwide you step into this other world when the chance comes, but you never leave your old life behind. Kolisi’s mother died when he was 15, his grandmother shortly afterwards. When Smit’s team was beating England in that World Cup final of 2007, the 16-year-old Kolisi was watching it in a township tavern because there was no television at home.
On Saturday, Zwide, Kolisi’s birth place was full to capacity. The tavern where the teenage Kolisi watched his first final was opened once again to watch history being made. Their prayers were answered. The skipper alongside the president, Cyril Ramaphosa lifted the third Rugby World Cup for South Africa, the first by a black captain assisted by a black president
“During the apartheid time, we could never look forward to a moment like this, because of our colour,” says Freddie Makoki, president of Zwide United rugby club, who played with Kolisi’s father and grandfather and watched the young Siya grow.
“We had so many players who could have captained the Springboks, but because of their colour they couldn’t.
“Sport can bring people together in this country. There are places you can’t walk at night, because of criminals. Sport is the only vehicle that can change that. If you take those boys and put them in sport it can change them and it can change our society.
“Siya has been an incredible role model for children here. Whenever he comes to visit you’ll see the youngsters coming out to see him. Everyone in the townships wants to be closer to him.
“He is a son of our soil. If you could have seen how full the taverns were for the semi-final you would not believe it. All of these people are now supporting the Springboks.
“It makes me so proud to see him in the Springbok jersey, to see the crowds at the game, calling out ‘Siya! Siya!’
“You can see it in the faces of the people of this country how much it meant to have Siya as captain. He is a true hero of modern South Africa.”
Picking up occasional gems has worked. Kolisi made the jump. Mapimpi is also from the Eastern Cape, and did not go through the private school system. He still made it. There are other black kids, those who don’t get the scholarships or find the eyes of a roving talent scout, who are still slipping through the net.
The lesson of of kolisi’s triumph is simple. The world is much more better going forward when people of all races and colour pull together, in a single direction, for a common purpose.
The challenge that lies for Kolisi and his fellow South African Rugy World Cup champions and administrators will be to create a wider pathway from undernourished grassroots to the elite.
The stats – Springboks score first tries in a final
- South Africa have lifted the Webb Ellis Cup on three occasions, no side has won the Rugby World Cup more often (level with New Zealand).
- South Africa are the only side to have a 100% win rate in World Cup finals, winning on each of their three appearances at this stage.
- South Africa’s 20-point victory is the joint second biggest in a final, after Australia’s 23-point win against France in 1999. New Zealand also won by 20 points in 1987.
- The Springboks scored two tries against England, the first time they’d ever crossed for a try in a final, they are yet to concede a try at this stage.
- England have lost the Rugby World Cup final on three occasions, no side has lost at this stage more often (level with France).
- Owen Farrell scored 12 points in this match, taking him past 100 points in the Rugby World Cup, the second player to reach that milestone for England in the tournament after Jonny Wilkinson (277).
- Billy Vunipola made 19 carries against South Africa, the most in the match and the most by any player in a World Cup final, surpassing Israel Folau’s tally of 16 in 2015.
- Maro Itoje made 16 tackles against South Africa, the joint second most in a final behind Richie McCaw (18 in 2011) and level with Jonny Wilkinson (16 in 2003).
- Makazole Mapimpi scored his 14th try in 14 Tests for South Africa, including six tries in six games at this year’s World Cup.
Additional reports from BBC, Guardian UK, Super Sports