Super Rugby

Kolisi's feet back on Bellville ground after RWC honeymoon

Siya Kolisi (Gallo)
Siya Kolisi (Gallo)

Cape Town - Since captaining the Springboks to 2019 Rugby World Cup glory, Siyamthanda Kolisi has been blasted high up into the stratosphere of sporting fame. 

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Hanging out at Anfield with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and signing a deal with American rapper Jay-Z's high-profile sporting agency have been Kolisi's most publicised ventures into global superstardom, but back home in South Africa he has become the darling of the nation. 

The win in Japan is, easily, one of the great South African sporting moments and Kolisi was at the forefront of what exactly it meant to this country. 

For the first time ever, South Africans looked on as a Bok side succeeded on the grandest stage of them all with black players emerging as the heroes. 

Rugby, for the first time, was for everyone and that was seen on a five-day long trophy tour after the tournament when the Boks took the Webb Ellis Cup to all corners of the country. 

Throughout that tour and in the weeks that followed, Kolisi was greeted with rockstar status as fans of all ages swarmed around him in search of photographs, autographs and the mere feeling of being in his presence. 

It has been around two-and-a-half months since Kolisi lifted the trophy in Yokohama, and while his life has not been the same since, he remains the humble, soft-spoken character he has always been. 

Now, Stormers coach John Dobson is looking to the 28-year-old Kolisi to provide that same injection of inspiration when Super Rugby 2020 gets underway at the end of the month. 

Kolisi and the rest of the World Cup-winning Boks including Bongi Mbonambi, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff, Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse are back at work and looking to bring that winning feeling to Cape Town. 

It was no easy task keeping those big-name players committed to the franchise with overseas offers coming at a time of financial instability at WP Rugby. 

Dobson, though, is understood to have been instrumental in securing some key contracts, including Kolisi's, in what is Newlands' farewell year. 

Kolisi, now one of the hottest commercial properties in world rugby, could have cashed in on a lucrative European move, but in discussing his decision to stay in South Africa on Monday he further illustrated why he is a man who has earned the respect of his team-mates. 

"It was tough, I won't lie," he said. 

"We are all rugby players and we have families we want to look after, but for me personally, I believe that there is so much to do here in South African rugby and so much I can add value to by playing here.

"I can't make the changes I want to see in my community by being elsewhere."

The social element of what the Springboks achieved in 2019 and how that celebration united the country remains a driving force behind everything Kolisi does, but at the end of the day he is a rugby player who wants to win matches and trophies. 

"I believe in this union so much and I would love to win a title with the Stormers. I've been here for nine years now and I've never won a single thing," he said. 

"I've stayed here because I know what Dobbo's (Dobson) plans are and Rassie's (Springbok coach, Erasmus) plans are.

"My main focus now is to make sure I give everything I can to Dobbo now so I can get picked every week. Hopefully it inspires the next generation to know that you've got to do the hard yards."

Dobson was quick to praise the work ethic of Kolisi and all of the returning Boks since they had joined the Stormers. There are no egos at play, the coach says, while Kolisi sees this as another opportunity for a group of South African players to find strength in their diversity. 

"We don't want a senior group of Springboks and then the other guys," Kolisi said.

"We want everyone to be one ... we wanted to create an environment where everybody can have an opinion in a meeting.

"If somebody has a better opinion than me, then I'll take it and we'll move forward.

"It's something we've had for quite a while. We've got a very diverse group here and we do things that, for some of us, are out of our comfort zone.

"We allow each person to take us where they're comfortable and I think it's the best way for us to understand each other.

"The biggest thing is hard work and the only thing I can tell you is that if we keep working hard, on and off the field, that's the only way we can keep that (unity) going in a positive way."

The feet are planted firmly back on the ground. 

Kolisi's modesty and an appreciation that leadership is bigger than one man have been hallmarks of his Springbok captaincy, but he has quickly shifted the focus back onto the Stormers. 

Here, on this Bellville turf in one of his most familiar environments, Kolisi is not an icon, but one of 45 squad members setting out to win a maiden Super Rugby title. 

"If Damian (Willemse, 21-years-old) sees me doing something, he will call me out and say I'm slacking off or whatever the case is," Kolisi added. 

"That's the environment we have here ... we are all the same."

Regardless of what happens results-wise, this will be an emotional year for the Stormers as they say goodbye to Newlands with the stadium set to be demolished in 2021 having staged rugby matches since 1890. 

It provides the perfect script for the Stormers to leave in style. 

"It's tough, but we want to try and use it as a positive and give the people something to smile about," said Kolisi. 

"It's been a tough few years since 2010 (when the Stormers lost the Super Rugby final to the Bulls) and with the squad that we have, we're positive.

"The most important thing is going to bring all that positive energy and a winning culture into this team and not by talking, by doing it on the field."

One thing the Stormers should have this year with Kolisi and so many World Cup winners in their ranks is a belief that anything is possible. 

The Springbok class of 2019 did the unthinkable, but for Kolisi one triumph is not enough.

"It's easy to go and do something great, but you've got to maintain that and be consistent," he said. 

"Rugby is one sport where you can get humbled very quickly."

Kolisi will captain the Stormers on Sunday when they take on the Sharks in their final warm-up match ahead of the 2020 Super Rugby season.

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