Springboks must show a champions’ mentality in the absence of inspirational skipper Siya Kolisi

Dylan Coetzee
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi waves after a game - south africa rugby world cup

The Springboks often speak about their ability to go to a ‘dark place’ and extract some of the best they can offer under the greatest of pressures. Whilst this group of players may have leapt over some difficult hurdles in their time together, they may have arrived at their most challenging yet.

Earlier this week, South African fans were rocked by the bombshell news that their inspirational leader Siya Kolisi could well miss the World Cup in France after it was revealed that his knee injury is worse than expected.

It is difficult to picture this Boks side without the athletic figure of Kolisi striding out in the iconic number six jersey with the team behind him, ready for battle.

A rugby icon

The 31-year-old has become a holistic embodiment of what a modern-day Bok is. He is hard-working, committed and focused on the collective. Kolisi’s rise in the game since taking on the mantle of South Africa’s first black captain has been exponential after he held the William Webb Ellis trophy almost four years ago.

Since taking on the armband, he has grown tremendously as a leader and is a player who commands respect from all corners of the rugby ecosystem. Quite simply, his leadership is irreplaceable. Yes, there are some incredible leaders around Kolisi in the Boks set-up, such as Handre Pollard, Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Lukhanyo Am, but the void the 2019 World Cupwinning captain will leave is massive.

Outside of his leadership, Kolisi has grown into a complete player with an incredible engine. His physicality on defence is brutal, whilst his running game in the outside channels has also developed significantly. He is a complete player and one that is going to be tough to replace.

Kwagga Smith is the likely replacement, and he will offer something slightly different with an elevated focus on the breakdown. He is an outstanding player and one with a wealth of experience in the game. Should he take on Kolisi’s jersey, the pressure will be on to make an impact.

Outgoing head coach

The Kolisi news comes not long after head coach Jacques Nienaber confirmed he would be leaving after the global showpiece to join Leinster as a senior coach.

The transparency of the decision made sense as it is one of the policies the Boks like to operate on, but it has opened the door to media speculation around who will succeed Nienaber after the World Cup. The management would have expected that, but it all feels a bit more magnified since the injury news.

The reason for the transparent approach with the Bok structures is for stability and as little disruption as possible. However, the loss of one of the greatest Bok captains the game has seen and the confirmation of the head coach’s departure will absolutely heap pressure on the squad.

Turbulent cycle

All of this adds to what has been a difficult cycle since their memorable triumph in 2019 after there was no rugby played in the country during 2020 due to the pandemic.

A good series win against the British & Irish Lions did follow in 2021 under unique conditions. Then in 2022, there was the injury crisis at fly-half coupled with some off-field issues that have since been addressed.

Time to show their metal

Ultimately, it has not gone as smoothly as the Boks would have hoped, but this is a squad loaded with World Cup winners, players who have been there and done that. In sports, there is great power in experience.

Rassie Erasmus speaks about the Boks wanting to go back-to-back and become the best team in history. That was never going to be handed to them. There was always going to be some sort of disruption or adversity.

Now is the time to see to the power of the squad to unlock the mentality monster mindset that saw them rise from the ashes of 2018 and claim rugby’s greatest prize.

Champions never sit down, and now the Boks need to go to their dark place with backs against the wall and prove they are still World Cup-winning material.

READ MORE: Siya Kolisi: Springboks captain set for Rugby World Cup heartbreak – report