Rugby, kids and romance for Siya Kolisi

Siya Kolisi and Rachel Smith with their son, Nicholas, and Siya’s half-siblings, Liyema and Liphelo
Siya Kolisi and Rachel Smith with their son, Nicholas, and Siya’s half-siblings, Liyema and Liphelo

Springbok flank Siya Kolisi and fiancée Rachel Smith will seal their four-year courtship with a spit-braai wedding as unique as their blissful family

All 105kg of Springbok flank Siya Kolisi trembled like a leaf when he asked Rachel Smith to marry him.

The couple were seated in a helicopter, hovering over the Cape Town suburb of Constantia, in front of Table Mountain, and he was saying, “We’re going to crash; this thing is going to fall,” moments before popping the question on December 12.

Speaking from the lounge of their Pinelands home this week, Rachel recalls: “It was our first time in a helicopter and Siya was freaking out. His hands were sweating and shaking.”

Tomorrow, the marketing executive who is now a full-time mother is scheduled to have her first wedding dress fitting in Cape Town. The gown will be stitched by local fashion house Habits, but the rest is a surprise.

“I want to keep it a secret from Siya. I want him to be, like, ‘wow!’ when my father walks me down the aisle.”

Their black tie wedding in August will see guests treated to a spit braai among oak trees on a wine estate near Stellenbosch.

“We love a good braai,” says Rachel.

“And besides, rugby players love eating – these guys are huge and need a lot of food.”

Rachel (26) and Siya (25) are parents to Nicholas Siyamthanda (1).

Two years ago, the couple took custody of Siya’s half-siblings, Liyema (14) and Liphelo (8), who spent five years in orphanages and in foster care in Port Elizabeth after their mother (also Siya’s mother) passed away in 2009. Liyema and Liphelo are now enrolled at a school in Cape Town.

Siya is often away on rugby commitments, but Rachel has created a home for the three children.

“It is not so normal trying to raise children with someone constantly travelling. And it’s tough to just stay at home. But these are sacrifices I have decided to make, and one day I will continue my career,” she says.

Despite the challenges, Rachel is quick to point out that they are lucky: “We are so blessed. Just the fact that we were financially capable of taking in Siya’s little siblings after they were in the system for so many years...”

When City Press met the family this week, Siya was out doing a photoshoot for Adidas. Inside the couple’s home, a toy plastic motorbike was upturned in front of a large, flat-screen TV.

In the kitchen, a steamy topless photograph of Siya adorns a cabinet door.

“Just a little reminder of who will be my husband in a few months’ time,” grins Rachel, blushing.

So, what is it like to date a celebrity rugby player?

“It is quite straightforward. You learn to see quickly who is nice to you just because you are dating a Springbok. I have met some really nice people, though.”

Last year, she travelled abroad for the first time to support Siya in London during the rugby World Cup.

Rachel, from Grahamstown, and Siya, from Zwide township outside Port Elizabeth, fell in love four years ago after meeting at a dinner party in Stellenbosch.

On their wedding website, Siya recounts his experience of courting her: “I knew I liked her and had to tell her. It was scary. I asked her to lunch and that’s when I told her. She played hard to get in the beginning, but eventually admitted it as well. The rest is history. We have a beautiful family and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her.”

Rachel adds: “We’ve had many special times together. I was there when he came out of the bush after his circumcision, when he played in the World Cup and the day he gave his life to Jesus. The birth of our son, Nicholas, and having Liphelo and Liyema join us in Cape Town have been the most incredible blessings by far.”

Siya’s childhood was tough, but his relentless rugby practice paid off. At the age of 12, he was given a scholarship to prestigious Port Elizabeth school Grey Junior and later to Grey High School.

Rachel says that she has the utmost respect for the sport that consumes her man.

“Rugby has always been a part of Siya. It came before all of us – me and the kids. He played rugby with his dad. They were very poor and some nights there was no money for food, so his gran would give them sugar water. Rugby was the thing that helped him to grow and to win that scholarship.”

She says transforming rugby is Siya’s great passion.

“Growing up, he used to play alone on a dusty grass field. This is something Siya feels strongly about: getting meals into these kids and building stadiums in the townships where they can play.”

Siya’s father and a few of his uncles will be among the guests at the couple’s A-list wedding.

They plan to have a traditional wedding in the Eastern Cape at a later stage.

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August 2020

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