South Africa captain Siya Kolisi. SteveHaagSports/Steve Haag/INPHO

Kolisi: More teams will use 7/1 split in future

The South Africa captain offers his view on the 7/1 split, and what makes Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus so effective as a coaching duo.

SIYA KOLISI KNOWS how to hold a room. The imposing Springboks captain is a giant of a man but tends to speak softly when there’s a dictaphone in front of him, which leaves his audience listening carefully to catch every word.

It helps that he’s always worth listening to. The flanker doesn’t pad his answers with clichés and leaves the impression he’s always speaking truthfully.

This morning, he held court in the Springboks stunning team hotel, located around an hour and a half north of Paris by car. There wasn’t exactly a big match feel around the place as some of Kolisi’ teammates lounged around in flip-flops, but the man himself did a good job of hyping up Saturday’s blockbuster clash with Ireland at the Stade de France.

“I think this is as big as it gets,” Kolisi said.

“We are playing the number one team in the world in the World Cup, that is what you dream about as a child. They are an amazing side, they have won 15 in a row so it’s going to take the best of us to beat them.”

siya-kolisi Kolisi speaking to the media on Thursday morning. Steve Haag Sports / Steve Haag/INPHO Steve Haag Sports / Steve Haag/INPHO / Steve Haag/INPHO

Sitting to Kolisi’s left was his head coach and Rassie Erasmus’ right-hand man, Jacques Nienaber. This weekend sees Nienaber and Erasmus take the bold move of opting for a 7/1 split of forwards and backs on the bench.

Nienaber spoke well about the how and why of the 7/1 split today, before Kolisi offered his own view on it when asked how he felt when the plan was first presented to him.

“We’re excited, because we know why they’re doing it and they explained it to us and tell us why, what the method behind it is.

“For us forwards, it’s nice to hear that but also to know that they’re always thinking of ways of making us better and it’s always about the plan for the game, what you are trying to do and what you are trying to achieve.

And I honestly think in future that people are going to do it more, it was the same with the 6/2 split.

“We were one of the first teams to do it and now a lot of teams are doing it because it works, and I think people might pick up on it (the 7/1 split). Obviously it varies on the type of players we have as a team.

“It’s a big test (to use it against Ireland), but it’s also a risk. But you must be willing to take those kind of risks to see whether things work or not.

“I’m looking forward to it. It’s the best team in the world to test it against. They’re really good, won 15 in a row and they can’t do much wrong at the moment, so it’s going to be good to see how it works out.”

If Nienaber and Erasmus are the brains of the Springboks operation, Kolisi is the heart.

The 32-year-old became an icon when he captained the Springboks to success at the 2019 World Cup but his popularity with South Africans appears to be at an all-time high. He was praised for his response to a question about out-half Manie Libbok’s kicking after their opening round win against Scotland, while the very fact he is even at this tournament is quite astounding. Kolisi sustained a serious knee injury in April but made a remarkable recovery to captain the Boks at this World Cup. 

His presence in the side is a gamechanger for Erasmus and Nienaber, two men who have had a huge impact on Kolisi’s career.

“The amount of work they put in with their coaching staff is ridiculous,” he continued.

“The amount of information we get… If we play Saturday, on Sunday we already have stuff ready. I always see them at seven o’clock sharp, they are always in meetings. This was our day off and they were meeting for I don’t know how long…

“The information is proper information. Not too much information. It’s exactly what you need to know. It’s crazy because when we played Scotland I was playing in a game and I’d watched someone’s profile and in that moment where the guy was coming at me, I knew exactly how he was going to come and tackle me, and those kind of things help a lot. Jacques is big on that, with all that information.

“Coach Rassie just gets us as people, he gets us as human beings. He reminds us exactly what we do and who we are doing it for.

“To have somebody who has also played at this level and sits there and thinks about rugby right now, but he also thinks about some of the mistakes he made when he played and he is not scared to share that. Whatever you are going through, he is always there to speak to you or if your form is dropping.

“He is there to talk to you and he says, ‘listen, this takes time, as long as you stay in form and put yourself in battles’. He knows us. He knows me as a person. He knows my struggles and where I come from and he used that and helps me to use that to the best of my ability. When the playing gets tough he reminds you where you come from, what kind of people we come from as South Africans.

“We don’t take it lightly. When you go through struggles, if you don’t use it for your good it is a waste and he finds ways to get you to use it while you play, and to motivate other people that were in the same position as you.”

South Africa certainly won’t be short of motivation on Saturday. As Kolisi said himself, this is as big as it gets. 

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