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Van Graan fondly recalls Kolisi debut and hails 'incredible' journey

The Munster boss worked at close quarters with many of the World Cup-winners.

Image: AP/PA Images

THE LONG, DESERVED celebrations and victory parades have sent a steady stream of poignant images from South Africa this past week.

Most of them prominently feature Siya Kolisi, the brilliant flanker who became the Springboks’ first black captain before becoming the face behind so many gold trophy lifts across the republic.

Kolisi’s iconic live post-final pitch-side interview left a lasting impression on all watching idly from afar. The 28-year-old has that ability to impact people and, as he lifted the Webb Ellis, the small interactions, quiet words, sprung to the top of the memory bank for those who know him.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan was on the Springboks coaching ticket when a just-turned-22-year-old Kolisi made his debut against Scotland in 2013 — coincidentally, his shot came just as current Munster back row Arno Botha fell to injury.

“Siya [Kolisi], to see where he came from, he was a young gun in 2012. He got selected in 2013, I was with him when he ran onto the field, when Arno Botha tore his ACL,” Van Graan recalls.

“I just told him ‘Siya, this is just another game, do what you always do.’”

Six years on he has been doing what he does and it has taken him to a World Cup win.

south-africa-trophy-tour Source: Denis Farrell

“That’s incredible what he has done. And he is a family man.”

Asked what it means for his native country, the Munster boss couldn’t help but feel the emotion as he considered the weight:

“To see the difference it makes in peoples’ lives is incredible.

“I thought through the World Cup England were the best team due to their performances but once it got to the final, after two minutes, it was clear South Africa would win. You can’t defeat set piece dominance.

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“Their scrums; I think it was on 43 minutes that Beastie [Tendai Mtawarira] and Francie [Malherbe] went off and on came Kitsi [Steven Kitshoff] and Vincent [Koch], two tanks, and that first scrum they dominated England straight away.

He adds: “I left with a heavy heart because it was such an incredibly group of people.

“I always said when I leave South Africa I want to leave on a good footing because as some stage I do want to go back. There was a massive opportunity at Munster and I went towards something.

“I have been in contact with most of those lads for the last two years. Like I said to the guys I am currently coaching, I am not in it for fame or ego. You want to make a difference. Hopefully some day when I leave Munster I will have made a massive difference here.

“To me it is more about the people. I have said that from day one.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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