Siya Kolisi voted most influential rugby personality
Every 2 years, Rugby World magazine names the most influential people in rugby. The list that is compiled names 50 of the sport’s biggest movers and shakers. Sitting on top of that list for 2020 is Springbok captain Siya Kolisi. News broke of this achievement when the August edition of Rugby World magazine was released. Since guiding the Springboks to Rugby World Cup glory in 2019, Siya has been on cloud nine. All accolades received are testament to the hard yards he has put in over the years.
Where it all started
Born and raised in the Eastern Cape township of Zwide, Siya has truly made the most of all the opportunities presented to him. Brought up by his grandmother, Siya’s childhood was anything but easy. Living from hand to mouth, there were times he didn’t know where and when his next meal would come from. His interest in rugby was his saving grace.
Other youngsters aspired to the flashy lifestyles of the local taxi drivers. But Siya was more interested in playing rugby at his local club. His talents were soon noticed, and a scholarship to the prestigious Port Elizabeth school of Grey High School followed. According to Kolisi, this was one of the major turning points of his life.
Learning fluent English was just one of the challenges that Siya faced when enrolling at the English boy’s school. The Siya that we all associate with nowadays has no problem conversing in English with statesmen such as Prince Harry. So one could say that he managed the language transition just fine.
Siya’s rugby origins
The transition from township club rugby to competitive boy’s school rugby came naturally to Kolisi. A regular in the Grey first team, Siya also represented the Eastern Province Kings provincial team from 2007- 2009. After attending the U18 Craven Week, Siya moved to Cape Town to join Western Province. At U20 level, he was part of the SA schools’ team for 2 years. At senior level, Siya made his debut against the Golden Lions in the 2011 Vodacom Cup. He followed this up in the same year with game time in the premier domestic league in South Africa, the Currie Cup. In 2012, Kolisi made his Stormers debut. But a thumb injury later in the season forced him to sit out for the majority of the Currie Cup. By earning his first international cap against Scotland in 2013, Siya reached the mark that most South African schoolboys dream of.
Not happy to rest on his laurels, Siya took over the captaincy of the Stormers in 2017. His natural leadership qualities were evident to all. On the international front, Siya steadily progressed through the ranks. After only a couple of appearances in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he managed to work his way into the starting 15 of the Test squad. In 2018, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus appointed Siya as captain of the team for the first time for the test match against England. This was a historic moment for both Kolisi and South African rugby, as this was the first time that the team was captained by a black South African. It was fitting that the game took place on home soil. It also helped that the team walked away as victors on the day against their Northern Hemisphere opponents.
Siya’s pivotal moments
One would argue that Siya’s career trajectory was aligning perfectly for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. By building a strong relationship with coach Rassie Erasmus, Siya managed to be the catalyst for the culturally diverse team and nation. With team performances improving game by game under the tutelage of Erasmus, the South African public started to believe in the team again. Following the Springbok success at the 2019 Rugby Championship, teams could no longer think of the team as a unit past it’s best. As it transpired, the Springboks took the Rugby World Cup by storm. After losing their opening game against old foes New Zealand, the team made it to the final where they produced a masterclass to outplay a more fancied England team.
Lifting the Webb Ellis trophy is the pinnacle of Siya Kolisi’s career (so far). He has proved to be a true inspiration for South Africans from all walks of life. Speaking after the final, Siya mentioned that the win had a far greater meaning for South Africa, and that he wished that the victory could inspire hope in a country filled with social and political discord.
Siya and his wife Rachel launched the Kolisi Foundation in March 2020. While originally planned to launch later in the year, the Covid-19 pandemic presented Siya and Rachel with an opportunity to assist those in need in the present situation. With grand plans of providing support to those in need from disadvantaged areas, the foundation had begun various projects around the country. With the Coronavirus situation, the foundation has changed gears and focussed on providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers, as well as establishing a food parcel programme for the needy in various areas. One of these areas being Zwede, the township where Siya grew up. It is inspiring to say the least that the current Springbok captain and his wife are giving back to communities in need during this difficult time.
While his rags to riches story is truly inspirational, one feels that even when the rugby career of Siya Kolisi comes to an end, there will still be a whole lot more he wants to offer. A true asset to South Africa, long may the youth of today revere to the man that is Siya Kolisi.