Rassie Erasmus ‘knew’ Siya Kolisi would ‘struggle’ as Springboks captain

Colin Newboult
Rassie Erasmus speaking to Springboks captain Siya Kolisi.

Rassie Erasmus speaking to Springboks captain Siya Kolisi.

Siya Kolisi may have become the Springboks’ greatest ever captain after helping them to successive Rugby World Cup titles, but it hasn’t been without its challenges.

In fact, the inspirational flanker admitted that he failed to get to grips with it initially and that the team’s other leaders have played just as crucial a role in South Africa winning back-to-back global tournaments.

Following the appointment of Rassie Erasmus as the Boks’ director of rugby, Kolisi was given the position as the side’s skipper.

He seemed to take to it like a duck to water, but the back-row conceded that it very much wasn’t the case, especially early on.

Kolisi’s role as captain

“It’s not about me, it’s about the group. Coach Rassie probably knew I would struggle at the beginning so he made a system that everybody was a leader, everybody was in charge of something, so he took away the pressure from me,” he said on the Behind the Ruck podcast with Rudy Paige and Juan de Jongh.

“All I had to do was talk to the ref basically, I was in charge of discipline, so that helped a lot. The more you play, the more you grow into (the role).

“When you want to be the man, that will be difficult to do; you will bump heads with other leaders. For me, I accept. Sometimes I keep quiet, I don’t know what to say and I will ask someone else to speak.”

Kolisi then went on to tell a humorous story from his first match as captain when they played England in Johannesburg.

It was the early stages of the Erasmus-Jacques Nienaber Springboks partnership and it did not go well in the opening quarter.

They shipped three converted tries during that period with their new Nienaber-designed rush defence being torn apart by the visitors.

The players therefore looked to Kolisi for guidance behind the posts, but there was none forthcoming from the skipper.

“Never forget that day”

“When we played against England in the first game as captain, 21 points down in 15 minutes,” he said.

“We were under the posts, they look at me, I look at them back. I didn’t know what to say, I’d never been here before!

“I’ll never forget that day. I looked back at them, (shrugged) and then Duane (Vermeulen) spoke.

“Jacques was also there because we were starting a new defensive system. He said it was going to take time. Jacques was like, ‘don’t stop doing it’, even though we weren’t getting it right.

“We were reading it wrong and then they would score. Now look at us today with that same defensive system.”

Incredibly, the Boks came back to win that match 42-39 to kick-start the new era and they never looked back, claiming world titles in 2019 and 2023.

READ MORE: Springboks captain Siya Kolisi explains why ‘everybody buys into’ Rassie Erasmus’ plans