Rugby Championship

Siya Kolisi recalls smoking weed, sniffing petrol with wrong crowd in new book: 'Rugby saved me'

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Springbok star Siya Kolisi
Springbok star Siya Kolisi
Gordon Arons/Gallo Images

In his soon-be-released autobiography, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi has recalled his tough upbringing in the Zwide township.

In the book, Rise, Kolisi details his successes in rugby and life, as well as his tough upbringing in the township near Gqeberha.

In an extract published by the Sunday Times, the Bok skipper recalls how he was raised by his aunt following the death of his grandmother.

"After my grandmother died my aunt raised me, and she did a great job. She didn't take any attitude from me: if I didn't do chores then I didn't get fed, simple as that. But I still felt that the one person who’d loved me unconditionally had gone, and without her, Zwide could seem an even scarier place than before," Kolisi writes.

"It was at a time when I was starting to hang out with some kids a bit older than me and doing what they were doing: drinking, smoking weed, sniffing petrol. We'd squeeze five rands' worth out of the pump, shake it up in a plastic bottle and inhale the fumes. I was only eight or nine, thinking I was tough and just wanting to fit in. If I'd gone much further down that path, I could have ended up a tsotsi, a young criminal, and from there you only have two real options: jail or death. Or both. 

"It was rugby that saved me."

In the book, Kolisi further explains how he first started playing soccer but eventually fell in love with rugby and played for the African Bombers, who were based at Dan Qeqe stadium only a few streets from his house.

He also goes into detail about often not having enough food to eat.

"When there was no food in our house, I would hang out at the neighbours' places and ask for food. They'd give whatever they could, sometimes allowing me to keep my pride - and more importantly my family's - by getting me to fetch something from the store and then giving me food as a reward. But there were many times when even this wasn't enough.

"It's hard to explain hunger, proper hunger, to people who've never experienced it. Hunger is not just being hungry, the brief sensation of discomfort which lasts only a few hours until the next meal. Being hungry is easy and commonplace. Hunger is different. It's all-consuming. It was all I could feel and all I could think about. My stomach seemed to twist in on itself, and the more I tried to ignore the pain there, the worse it got."

At the age of 12, Kolisi impressed scouts at a youth tournament in Mossel Bay and was offered a scholarship at Grey Junior in Port Elizabeth.

He was subsequently offered a rugby scholarship to attend the prestigious Grey High School.

Kolisi was a regular member of the first XV rugby team and was also a part of the Eastern Province youth set-up between 2007 and 2009, playing in the Under-16 Grant Khomo week and the Under-18 Craven Week before joining Western Province after school.

He made his Springbok debut in 2013 and became the country's first black captain in 2018.

Under Kolisi's leadership, the Boks won the 2019 Rugby World Cup and also beat the British & Irish Lions 2-1 in a series this year.

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