Warren Whiteley, when he is fit, will be the Springbok captain. The chances of him being ready for the June 2 international season opener against Wales and the June 9 Test against England in Johannesburg are not good.
So, who captains the Springboks in the absence of the injured 2017 Springbok captains Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth?
Siya Kolisi is the Stormers captain and he was one of the best and most consistent Springboks in 2017. His form has not reached a similar standard in this year’s Super Rugby but Kolisi has a history of lifting his game to another level in Tests. His form could also turn around in a different environment.
Everything would point to Kolisi being the next player in line to lead the Springboks. Rugby, as a sport in South Africa, would take the most significant of transformation leaps with the appointment of Kolisi as captain.
And here I have to emphasise that a transformation leap is not to be read as anything but a player being rewarded for his leadership, skill and ability, who just happens to be black. I am not promoting the selection of the Springbok captain because he is black.
Kolisi, for me, is a good enough to make the starting XV and the best of the available captaincy options.
The All Blacks have for the past decade spoken of trusting what the player does at Test level, as opposed to what the player isn’t doing in Super Rugby. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen consistently has backed his class Test players to find form in the All Blacks environment and to flourish in the national set up.
I’d make a plea to Rassie Erasmus to trust Kolisi to find the necessary inspiration from wearing green and gold and for it to reflect in his performance in being able to lead from the front.
Kolisi is hugely respected as a player and leader by his peers in South Africa and he is a player the Kiwis often single out as a strength in the South African game.
Kolisi has done his apprenticeship over the last five years.
I singled out Kolisi in a recent Sport24 column, saying he needed to make it easy for Erasmus to give him the Springbok leadership responsibility by way of performance and that his indifferent Super Rugby performances could strengthen the notion that he isn’t good enough to make the team, let alone be the captain.
I’m backing Kolisi’s historic Test form to trump anything I’ve seen from him in a struggling Stormers set-up in 2018.
Lest we forget, he was among South Africa’s finest at Test level in 2017.
Erasmus, through circumstance, has the opportunity to turn a seemingly cursed situation into one of celebration in entrusting Kolisi with the leadership in Whiteley and Etzebeth’s absence.
Do it Rassie! Break the mould.
Will Erasmus do it?
I’m not so sure because in recent weeks the name of Handre Pollard as an interim captaincy option has been mentioned with regularity on many different media platforms, and by many different rugby writers.
Pollard is a former SA Schools and SA under-20 captain. He has captained nearly every team he has represented at provincial or national level. He will lead the Bulls against the Jaguares this weekend.
Pollard’s leadership credentials shouldn’t be debated. His track record since those teen days vindicate any faith a coach would put in his leadership.
But the player is only just finding the form that made him a Test sensation in his first international season in 2014. Injuries disrupted Pollard’s career since the 2015 World Cup and this season is the first since 2014 that he has played consistently, and with the greater game time has come the necessary performance expected of a Test No 10.
Pollard, in the last month, has gone ahead of Elton Jantjies in the flyhalf pecking order. Jantjies will definitely be in the Springbok squad and he will in all likelihood start against Wales, with Pollard starting against England.
Pollard and Jantjies will be the initial flyhalf picks, but does Pollard, at his juncture, need the additional responsibility of captaincy when there is still so much public debate as to whether he would be the starting No 10?
I don’t think the captaincy in June would do Pollard any favours and I do think that Kolisi to captain and Pollard to be his 2IC is the win-win rugby situation, that by default allows for a win-win South African situation on a far greater level.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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