Cape Town – There may be a record nine players of colour in the Springbok starting line-up for Saturday’s Test against Scotland, but captain Siya Kolisi says the transformation of the team is about so much more than numbers.
Kolisi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Elton Jantjies, Herschel Jantjies, Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi and Ox Nché are all in the starting XV.
Then-coach Rassie Erasmus chose eight black players in the run-on side in 2019 for a clash against Australia at Ellis Park, while there were three more players of colour on the bench that day.
For Kolisi, the major factor about the transformation of the current Bok group is the support that the players receive from the coaching staff, which started when Rassie Erasmus took charge in 2018 and made Kolisi the captain.
“I didn’t even know that! When Coach Rassie came in and Jacques (Nienaber) and Coach (Mzwandile) Stick, I said it earlier – winning, transformation and squad depth (are the three goals in selection),” Kolisi said from Edinburgh on Friday ahead of Saturday’s clash at Murrayfield (3pm SA time kickoff).
“One of the first coaches to speak openly and blatantly about it, and say ‘This has to change’. This is part of the team’s goals that we need to make sure of, and he’s going to consistently work on it and check on it. And I love that, because there are no back-door chats… How he speaks to us in front of the whole team: ‘This is how we are going to back people’, and the nicest thing about it is that we were prepared.
“If you know a guy is not good at high balls, Coach Stick is there, and he works with the guys over and over until a guy becomes good at it. You don’t drop him just because he’s good at it – maybe he is good at many other things. So, I really love that.
“Now we can speak as players – we’ve got a platform, and can be ourselves. I love that. So, it’s not only in the numbers… it’s actually also the way everything (is done).
“Yes, I’m the captain of the team, and everybody sees that on the outside. But on the inside, there are many leaders, and each and every guy has a role to play. I love that because everybody has a voice. Whenever we step on the field, on the high balls, it will be (Aphelele) Fassi, or (Makazole) Mapimpi or Jesse (Kriel), and everybody has a role to play.”
Kolisi added that director of rugby Erasmus has also inculcated a hard edge amongst the players.
“Transformation is not only happening just because of numbers. First of all, the guys are good enough. But also, we are growing as sportsmen and also growing as leaders,” he said.
”The one thing that Coach Rassie has taught us is that we as South Africans are very humble people. We are sorry… If we make a mistake, we say sorry. We are not brave on the field. We don’t walk with confidence. We always shy away (from everything).
“He’s told us we are world champions. We’ve worked so hard to get to where we are, and we must be able to be bold on the field. If you are confident that the call is with you, speak up and play with confidence on the field, which we see so many teams doing.
“We are not where we want to be, but I really believe we are moving in the right direction. I didn’t know that (about the numbers), but that is really huge, and people don’t really talk about it when it’s going well. It’s only when it’s not happening.
“So, I’m really proud of that, and hopefully we can get better and better with form and guys playing and getting opportunities.”