If not Siya Kolisi, who will captain the Springboks under Rassie Erasmus?

Jared Wright
Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi, centre Lukhanyo Am, head coach Rassie Erasmus, locks Eben Etzebeth and Salmaan Moerat.

Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi, centre Lukhanyo Am, head coach Rassie Erasmus, locks Eben Etzebeth and Salmaan Moerat.

Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus has addressed the situation around Siya Kolisi’s captaincy with the double World Cup-winning skipper plying his trade in France.

Erasmus handed Kolisi the captaincy armband back in 2018, entrusting the flanker to lead the Springboks back to the top of world rugby, which he emphatically did, claiming two World Cup titles and a British & Irish Lions series win.

Between 2018 and 2023, Kolisi was based in South Africa, representing the Stormers and Sharks at club level, but following the World Cup success in France, he left the Sharks to link up with Racing 92.

His move abroad has created a bit of a conundrum for the Bok coach as he mulls over whether to continue backing Kolisi or select a player based locally. It is understood that SA Rugby doesn’t have a strict policy against an overseas-based captain, but there is a preference towards one, even with Erasmus himself.

“I prefer to have my captain locally based as that allows for more interaction,” Erasmus said on Tuesday.

So if not Kolisi, who leads the Springboks? Planet Rugby takes a look at the various options.

Leading candidate short-term: Bongi Mbonambi

Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

In the build-up to the Rugby World Cup, when Kolisi was sidelined, Duane Vermeulen – and on one occasion Eben Etzebeth – captained the side during the Rugby Championship.

However, in the first World Cup warm-up fixture, the above-mentioned pair were both rested and the responsibility was awarded to hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

He would fulfil that role again in the pool stage matches against Tonga and Romania while also taking over the captaincy in the latter stages of knockout games when Kolisi left the pitch.

Mbonambi’s age profile (33) means that he is not an ideal candidate for the role on a long-term basis but could be a filler until the next captain emerges.

The Springboks, like many other Test teams, generally select forwards or players close to the action as their leaders, and the hooker is right in the thick of it.

Some factors count against him, one being that he has recently shown that he doesn’t have the best relationship with referees. He also isn’t an out-and-out starter for the Springboks, particularly with Malcolm Marx returning from injury soon, but that won’t be the biggest concern for the Boks, who regularly hooked Kolisi from the action early, even in the crunch Test matches.

With the Springboks set to play Wales outside of the Test window without their overseas internationals and potentially without the Bulls or Stormers players, Mbonambi and some of the other candidates below could take the role on at Twickenham Stadium.

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Top candidates medium-term

Springbok star Eben Etzebeth with his winners medal.

Springbok star Eben Etzebeth with his winner’s medal.

If Erasmus is looking for a captain to take over until the next Rugby World Cup, he has two standout options in Lukhanyo Am and Etzebeth.

The Sharks pair have both been entrusted with leadership roles in the past, with Etzebeth skippering the side on 13 occasions and while Am is yet to captain the Boks, he did lead South Africa A against the British & Irish Lions.

Erasmus has raised concerns over whether Etzebeth will still be at the top level by the time Australia 2027 comes around, but those comments would likely spur him on more than anything else. We wouldn’t put it past the 32-year-old behemoth still dominating the international stage for the years to come.

30-year-old Am was injured in the build-up to the World Cup and did not force his way back into matchday 23 due to Jesse Kriel’s form. A classy operator, the Sharks midfielder is bound to force his way back into the reckoning. A quieter player than some of the other candidates, but Erasmus added the right kind of leaders around Kolisi to allow him to thrive and could do the same for Am.

If Erasmus does opt for a locally-based player to lead the side, he is likely to have several leaders in the squad from abroad including Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Steven Kitshoff and Handre Pollard. There is also an opportunity for Kitshoff, who could be in line for a return to South Africa with the current upheaval at Ulster.

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Up and comers

Vodacom Bulls' Elrigh Louw during the Investec Champions Cup match at Ashton Gate, Bristol.

Bulls’ Elrigh Louw during the Investec Champions Cup match at Ashton Gate, Bristol.

Erasmus’ former teammate Corné Krige is the youngest Springbok to captain the side in the professional era at the age of 24, and the head coach could follow ex-coach Nick Mallett in backing a younger player for the captaincy. Krige skippered the side on his debut against Italy but only resumed the role three years later, but Erasmus could be braver and back a candidate long-term.

Bulls back-rower Elrigh Louw (24) could come into his thinking, particularly as he has a future as a blindside flanker and number eight for the side. Louw wasn’t in the Bok mix last year but made his debut for the side in 2022, picking up three caps.

Louw’s Bulls teammate, Ruan Nortje, is a natural heir to Franco Mostert in the Bok squad and has shown his leadership capabilities with Jake White’s side. The 25-year-old is the cliche of leading by example, and while he only has one appearance off the bench in Green and Gold, he is bound to add to that tally. The only question is whether he is high enough in the pecking order right now or not.

One player that the Springboks coaching staff clearly hold in high regard is Stormers lock Salmaan Moerat. The 26-year-old is a leader at the Cape outfit and has captained the South African U20s. A natural leader, one of Moerat’s biggest downfalls is that he has been injury-prone of late.

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Outside bets

Stormers number eight Evan Roos is bracing himself for a ‘physical’ encounter against the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship (URC) quarter-final against the Bulls

Erasmus is renowned for his out-of-the-box thinking, and he could stun once again with his captaincy selection.

Stormers superstar youngster Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu captained the U20s and has a bright, bright future in Green and Gold. It would be a big ask for the 22-year-old to skipper the senior side, but if he gets backed, the role would be shored up for the next decade.

He isn’t the only off-the-radar candidate, as Damian Willemse could be a left-field choice, considering the Boks usually back players in the pack and close to the action, with the only standout exception being Jean de Villiers. Willemse is versatile in being able to play fly-half and centre, but his future surely lies at full-back.

Perhaps a really surprising selection would be another Stormer in Evan Roos. The back-rower has been criticised for his discipline and hot-headiness, but perhaps entrusting him with the captaincy would be a stroke of brilliance to get the best of him. The 24-year-old has plenty of promise and has delivered on it during his time with the Stormers and with Vermeulen retiring, he could battle past Jasper Wiese in the pecking order for the number eight role or force his way into the starting team with his move to the side of the scrum.

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