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'I was watching the 2007 final in the tavern because I didn't have a TV at home'

Springboks captain Siya Kolisi has proved to be a wonderful leader for Rassie Erasmus’ side.

WALKING AWAY FROM International Stadium Yokohama this evening, there was the usual sight.

Hundreds of rugby fans on the streets outside the nearby convenience stores with bags of cans – toasting, celebrating, and chanting.

Outside one of the local 7/11 stores, a group of Springboks fans had engaged a couple of Welsh supporters and they were boisterously chanting “Oh, Siya Kolisi” to the tune of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.

siya-kolisi-and-duane-vermeulen-celebrate-after-the-game Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermuelen embrace. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The South Africa captain has captured the imagination of his country in recent times and this World Cup has only strengthened his position as a genuine ambassador for the ‘Rainbow Nation.’

There is a whole lot of bullshit branding around professional rugby teams and those in other sports too, but Kolisi genuinely appears to deeply care about his role in trying to unite his nation through rugby.

He is the man holding the phone and speaking in the Springboks’ video from inside their changing room as they thanked all their supporters, and he has worked tirelessly to engage with fans.

Appointing Kolisi as his captain was a strong move from Rassie Erasmus, with a black player never having had the honour before. While Kolisi earned his position through rugby talent and leadership skills, first and foremost, he is a symbol for this Boks squad.

Our knowledge of South Africa is not strong so we won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the social situation there, but it is clear that Kolisi has engaged a huge number of supporters and that many people take pride in his role as captain.

Now, the 28-year-old has led the Springboks back into their first World Cup final since 2007. 

Kolisi had a tough upbringing in a Port Elizabeth township, losing his mother when he was just 15 and being raised by his grandmother. His brilliance in rugby offered him a pathway to prosperity and now Kolisi takes his position as a role model very seriously.

He recalls what South Africa’s World Cup win in 2007 did for the nation. Kolisi was just 16 when that final against England was played.

“The last time? I was actually watching it in the tavern because I didn’t have a TV at home,” said Kolisi in Yokohama this evening after his team’s win over Wales.

“I remember what it did for us in 2007, I’ve never seen people come together like that over sport.”

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siya-kolisi-takes-a-selfie-with-fans Kolisi has tirelessly engaged with supporters. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Kolisi heaped praise on Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus for his central role in guiding this team into next weekend’s World Cup final against England.

When Erasmus took over at the end of 2017, the Boks had just endured two miserable years under Allister Coetzee. Reaching this World Cup final is a superb achievement and winning it would be genuinely remarkable.

“It means a lot to me and the team,” said Kolisi. “We’ve worked really hard. He [Erasmus] gave me my first contract when I was 18-years-old, so I’ve known him a long time.

“He knows how to pull us together. As soon as he came, he made it very clear that the Springboks is the most important thing whereas in the past most of us tried to build ourselves on social media and those kind of things.

“He brought us back down to earth and told us we had to play well first and everything else will come. It’s awesome to come together and it means so much to us.”

The Springboks shared a video on social media pre-match that showed South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa calling Kolisi to wish himself and his team a good luck message before their semi-final, again underlining how much the country is behind them.

“It was really special for him to take time out and wish us luck,” said Kolisi.

“Not only from him but all the people in South Africa. It is really special to see how they have bought into what we are doing here.

“This [World Cup final] means everything to us. As a team, we all come from different backgrounds – different everything.

“To have so many people from South Africa come to support us, it really means a lot to us. We see your messages back home, it really means a lot to us. Just keep on supporting us and we will keep on doing our best.” 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from International Stadium Yokohama

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