Is there a Siya Kolisi captaincy conundrum? Not really
He's proven himself, and with the World Cup looming there is no reason to mess with the current set-up
Springbok coaches always have pressure, yet usually the choice of skipper might raise some debate, ruffle a few feathers, but ultimately disappear quickly into the next news cycle.
When Rassie Erasmus named Siya Kolisi as captain for the England series in June it was no ordinary announcement though, and it dominated local and international news. In the context of South Africa’s history, making a black African player captain of the team that was once the sporting embodiment of white minority rule was a deafening roar that finally South African rugby was inclusive.
Of course, Erasmus downplayed the political and social significance of the move, rightly championing Kolisi’s virtues as a player and a proven leader at Super Rugby level.
Through the prism of a pure rugby decision, it was not a seismic event. But Siya’s elevation to the top sporting position in South Africa could never be viewed through that lens only.Which is why Erasmus has a conundrum – from the outside of the Bok inner circle at least – about whether to retain Kolisi as captain indefinitely, or revert to other choices not available in June.
It should be a straightforward decision to retain Kolisi as skipper. After all, he guided the team to a series victory over England, which in the context of where the Boks were after 2017, was no small undertaking.
The Boks also came back from two massive deficits in the first two Tests to win both and seal the series without needing a decider.
Kolisi as skipper deserved a lot of praise for keeping the team focused and stopping it from collapsing completely under those circumstances.
But that was then and this is now.The All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas loom and there are other dynamics at play that were absent in June.The most obvious is the return of 2017 Bok captain’s Warren Whiteley and Eben Etzebeth. Both missed the June internationals through injury and both lost their captaincies through circumstances beyond their control.
Whiteley, barring injury in the final weeks of the current Super Rugby campaign, is a strong contender for a place in the Bok team again, and his hand is strengthened by the absence of Duane Vermeulen, who was a colossal presence against England and a mighty lieutenant to Kolisi.
Had Vermeulen been available for the Rugby Championship (his contract with a Japanese club prohibits this), it would have been easier for Erasmus to retain the status quo regarding the captaincy because Siya and Duane dovetailed superbly.
Vermeulen was vocal in terms of playbook decisions and motivation while Kolisi managed referees and the public relations of the team beautifully.Vermeulen desperately wanted to be a Bok captain, but his moment passed and instead of becoming a disruptive influence, he threw his support behind his former Stormers teammate. The result was a fearsome leadership duo.
Whiteley’s return muddies the waters in terms of an overall leadership dynamic. He’s a decent man though and should also offer full support to Kolisi if Erasmus asks the latter to continue as Bok skipper.
The imminent return of Etzebeth is another reason to look no further than Kolisi as skipper. He and Etzebeth are best mates and are at the pinnacle of the Stormers leadership pyramid, and they will strengthen the overall Bok leadership group as a combination.
Erasmus was careful to only name Kolisi as Bok skipper for June, but that was a decision taken before he had had a chance to work closely with the man he brought to the Stormers in 2010.
The coach and captain have to have great chemistry and complete trust. Now that they have successfully worked together under the supreme pressure of Test rugby, they are ready for the next step in their progression.There are only 15 more Tests until the 2019 World Cup and there is no reason to mess with the captaincy.
Whiteley, Etzebeth, Handré Pollard and Vermeulen all have a case to lead the team.
But circumstances have led to Kolisi’s captaincy and he has proven himself.
It’s time for Erasmus to back Kolisi’s captaincy through until Japan next year so that their relationship can strengthen and flourish, allowing it come to maturity in Osaka and Tokyo 14 months from now.