Springboks captain Siya Kolisi. Ben Brady/INPHO

'Sexton plays with his heart on his sleeve. He drives the team' - Kolisi

The Springboks skipper was full of praise for Ireland ahead of tomorrow’s big showdown.

THE SPRINGBOKS BUS is late back from their captain’s run so when Siya Kolisi arrives into the makeshift press conference room at their team hotel in Dublin, he offers an apology to the small group of media who have been waiting.

He shakes everyone’s hand and introduces himself to the new faces, hammering home the longstanding impression that he’s a gentleman.

He then proceeds to praise virtually every member of the Ireland team. He has clearly done his analysis but his words also come across as genuine.

There’s no doubt that Kolisi will thunder into every collision with the Irish players tomorrow full of intent and aggression, but for now he’s looking to kill them with kindness.

He will be captaining the South Africans opposite Ireland leader Johnny Sexton, a man he doesn’t know very well.

“I’ve spoken to him a little bit, met him at one event, and just on social media,” says Kolisi.

“I wish him luck for games because we’re both Adidas athletes and I’ve seen him a couple of times. If I see him in the street, I would stop him briefly and greet him and talk to him.”

Kolisi understands just how important Sexton is to Ireland.

“He’s a good leader, he plays with his heart on his sleeve. He leaves it all on the field and directs the team very well, you can see a lot of the players look up to him. The attack relies a lot on him and he drives the team around.”

johnny-sexton-with-lood-de-jager-and-siya-kolisi Kolisi tackles Sexton back in 2017. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Kolisi flags the breakdown threat of players like Tadhg Beirne and Andrew Porter, the excellence of Josh van der Flier, and plenty of other Irish qualities along the way.

He has been impressed by how Ireland have developed under Andy Farrell, although he reminds us all that the Boks have plenty of strengths too.

“They’ve been great and they’re number one in the world so it’s obviously worked for them,” Kolisi says of Ireland.

“It’s going to be different to the team we faced five years ago. They have developed very well and have so many good players in the team. A lot of their guys have been in competition for World Rugby player of the year. Every guy on their team has grown and that’s the challenge for us as a team.

“We have grown as a team too and we’ve got a style of play that we enjoy playing and while it’s two different styles, it’s actually not too different even if people see it differently.

“People say we kick, well we kick for a reason. We kick to get ourselves into places so we can play rugby. The way we play to us, we think it’s a beautiful way. We say rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes. Our way is focused on scrum and the maul which is also beautiful in its own way.

“Ireland are very good with their set plays and they’re technical, so it’s going to be a good game to watch with two different plays. Hopefully, it’s a great day and a proper game of rugby for everybody to see.”

Farrell’s men have been forced into a late change to their team, with Robbie Henshaw ruled out and Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey coming into the side.

eben-etzebeth-and-siya-kolisi Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth at the Aviva Stadium today. Ben Brady / INPHO Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

Boks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick points out that Henshaw is “world-class and they’re probably going to miss him,” before Kolisi follows up to stress that McCloskey is a danger too.

“He’s a similar player, a big guy,” says Kolisi. “He was very good when we played against him in the URC. To get gainline, he’s big on that. He’s got a good offloading game as well so whatever they lose, they’re going to benefit with something else.

“It’s going to be a good challenge for us as a team. Our prep isn’t based on individuals, it’s based on the team, so not much will change for us.”

The next question is about Rassie Erasmus, who has come into the room to wait for an interview with one of the South African journalists.

Kolisi proceeds to praise Rassie’s management of the team. When the press conference is finished, Erasmus walks up to his captain and hands him some imaginary cash, saying, “Here’s your money, thanks for that.”

It’s all smiles and compliments at the Springboks team hotel this evening but Ireland know there’s something very different coming tomorrow.

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