Springboks captain Siya Kolisi (28) will be the first black captain to lead the Springboks to a Rugby World Cup. Kolisi carries not only the hopes of rugby fans but also the hopes of millions of young black South Africans, those who dream of using sport to break the cycle of poverty.

There are those, mostly on social media, who argue that his selection was another “quota tokenism”. Black rugby players have carried that  “quota player” tag ever since transformation started in the 1990s.

Kolisi’s appointed may remind South Africans of Madiba’s galvanising influence in iconic moments such as the 1995 World Cup final, dressed in François Pienaar’s spare Springbok jersey to present the South African team with the Webb Ellis Cup.

Who would forget that in the three years after that 1995 match there were so many racist scandals in the rugby team? That Madiba had to set up a commission of inquiry into racism in rugby, and that the head of the union, the late,
Dr Louis Luyt, was so upset about it that he forced Mandela in to court to defend the decision? Anyway, enough about that, today we celebrate Kolisi.

The story of Kolisi’s rise to the top is well documented. He grew up in one of impoverished townships in Port Elizabeth, Zwide where he had to fight for a chance to play professional rugby.

At the tender age of 12 he impressed scouts at a youth tournament in Mossel Bay and was offered a scholarship at Grey Junior in Port Elizabeth. He made his senior debut for Western Province against the Golden Lions during the 2011 Vodacom Cup. In
2012 Kolisi graduated to the Stormers squad and made an immediate impact. He was selected as the new captain of the Stormers on 20 February 2017. He became the new captain of the Springboks on 28 May 2018.

South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus has played a key role in Kolisi’s rise and was coach of Western Province when the back rower earned a first professional contract.

“Obliviously the ultimate dream is to win the World Cup and that’s been the coach’s message since he started with us. The way he’s worked with us…he’s taught us a lot of things. If the coach says something…he tells us openly as players as well, so we have that sense of responsibility and honesty within the team which makes it black and white that you have to give your best at all times,” Kolisi told reporters on Monday.

“Before, not a lot of us could dream of opportunities like this, but as you can see now it is becoming more normal. It’s possible,” Kolisi said.

He believes there are many other ‘Siya’s’ in the townships and rural areas, who under the right guidance can develop the same kind of skills for the game.

The South African Rugby Union announced the squad on Monday. The Springboks will kick-off with their match against New Zealand on 21 September 2019. They have also been pooled with Italy, Namibia and Canada.

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