Cape Town – Any uncertainty is clearing … a bit like a late winter fog, if you like.
Siya Kolisi’s consecutive leading of the Springboks to victories over New Zealand and Australia in the space of a fortnight -- crucially including inspiring own form – truly gives him the inside lane now to be South Africa’s captain for their seventh assault on a World Cup in Japan next year.
Head coach Rassie Erasmus won’t commit on the subject just yet, and he is entitled to keep his options open for a bit longer, even though he has stated the obvious: Kolisi is right in the frame.
That frame looks increasingly like one allowing little space for other figures to squeeze into it, however.
Just at a time when his personal game appeared to have lost some of its lustre – remember that Kolisi has played more rugby than most other South Africans at all levels this year, so a dip almost seemed inevitable – the charismatic character from Zwide turned on his “A-game” in both Wellington and Port Elizabeth.
The net result is that two things now seem increasingly apparent: barring a sudden nosedive (read: on the end-of-year tour) in both his and the team’s fortunes, Kolisi will lead the troops to the Far East late next year, but also settle afresh in the No 6, open-side flank role.
Certainly he has only stiffened the level of respect he commands, all-importantly, in the Bok dressing room – that much has been apparent through the determined, jersey-proud way the redeveloping national team have recaptured lustre after that wobbly spell involving losses in Argentina and Australia.
Instead of the wheels subsequently falling off in a more pronounced way, the Boks have only stepped back with some authority and enterprise onto the upward curve that had been demonstrated during the June home series against England.
They say the best captains lead from the front -- especially in a time of possible, mounting crisis – and that is exactly what Kolisi has done of late, being among the very premier SA performers in both the “Cake Tin” and then at atmospheric Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday, so close to the now Stormers-based loose forward’s roots.
For what it is worth, he registered 8/10 in Wellington and an almost as imperious 7.5 in PE on this writer’s Bok performance chart from the heartening successive triumphs.
Both times, he was back in the role I have always been adamant gets his juices flowing best at international level; he has tended to be that bit more muted whenever stationed on the blindside, where slightly beefier specimens physically (often doubling seamlessly as locks) have tended to get the job done impressively in modern times for the Boks.
But Kolisi still brings a suitably rugged, clattering commitment to the open side, as well as some deft touches, and even before his latest enlightening showing coach Erasmus had been praising the player’s rise to “real all-rounder” in flank play.
The one time the 27-year-old could more comfortably operate at No 7, perhaps, is when behemoth Duane Vermeulen is the No 8 rather than the more twinkle-toed Warren Whiteley (or more rookie Sikhumbuzo Notshe).
But there’s another reason – and an increasingly major one – why Kolisi settling more routinely at six makes enormous sense: the rise and rise of Pieter-Steph du Toit as the marauder on the other side of the scrum.
Right now, Du Toit is simply immovable at No 7.
There will always be a strong lobby advocating a genuine, lower-centre-of-gravity fetcher at No 6, and it is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future.
Yet Kolisi went a long way to keeping that school of thought at arm’s length last Saturday, where Australia fielding both David Pocock and Michael Hooper in their loose trio gave them the potential of two tenacious “moles” on paper.
Interestingly, then, the Boks actually dominated the pilfering department (“official” stats credited the home side with an 8-5 edge) despite Pocock, in particular, being an ominous nuisance early on.
The Zimbabwean-born No 8 was credited with four of the five Wallaby steals … but Kolisi was right up alongside him with his own quartet, apparently, for the Boks; the others went to Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, Du Toit and Handre Pollard with one each.
Plenty of coaches will tell you that stealing on the ground is increasingly a “teamwide culture”, especially if that mindset is spiritedly drilled into the players’ heads before specific matches.
Siyamthanda Kolisi as Springbok captain and wearer of the No 6 jersey – a la Francois Pienaar ’95 – in Japan next year?
I’d say the likelihood has soared of late.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing