Kolisi will remain Bok skipper as Southern Hemisphere rugby faces massive change

Kolisi will remain Bok skipper as Southern Hemisphere rugby faces massive change
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi. (Photo: Steve Haag / Gallo Images)

Southern Hemisphere rugby is set for seismic changes in 2021 with New Zealand confirming it was going to part ways with South Africa. But at least one vital component will stay unchanged – Siya Kolisi will remain as Bok captain.

In rugby the symbiosis between a coach and captain is one of the sport’s unique features. The captain is an extension of the coach’s vision on the field and it’s seldom that when the coach of a Test team changes, that the captain remains unchanged as well.

The All Blacks were one of the few to embrace seamless change when Steve Hansen took over the All Black reins in 2012. There was no question that Richie McCaw would remain the undisputed leader, continuing a job he had done for the previous four years that led to 2011 World Cup glory.

Hansen’s decision to stick with the obvious and best choice led to another World Cup title in 2015 and a period of unprecedented All Blacks dominance of the world game.

South African examples are rare, but John Smit, who led the Boks to the Rugby World Cup 2007 title under coach Jake White, continued for another four years under new coach Peter de Villiers. That relationship reached its peak in 2009 when the Boks won the Tri-Nations (and beat the All Blacks three times in a row) and beat the British & Irish Lions 2-1 in an epic series.

Newly appointed Bok coach Jacques Nienaber is the first to be immediately promoted from within the team set-up after a successful stint under Rassie Erasmus as defence coach that culminated in RWC 2019 triumph.

It is a logical and seamless appointment and Nienaber, 47, was surprised when, as a guest on the Maverick Sports Podcast, he was asked if he was considering a captaincy change.

“No. Siya (Kolisi) will be the captain,” Nienaber said without hesitation. “The captain will have to earn his place and play well first of all. The captain is currently Siya and it will be Siya until such a time as he is not earning his place in the team.

“Siya is a very good captain. I’ve worked with him since 2011 when he joined Western Province as a 19-year-old and he was our junior team captain back then. For Siya, captaincy is normal, he has been doing it for almost 10 years.

“What makes him a great leader in my opinion, is that he is calm, level-headed, humble and a straight shooter. He doesn’t come with frills and other little things and most of all, he plays well. He leads by example on the field and his performances at the World Cup (after a long injury) showed that.

“A lot of people forget that being a good captain is one thing, but to be a good captain you have to play well. Players are inspired by the captain’s performances first and only then inspired by his captaincy (leadership).

“At RWC 2019 it was tough for Siya because he came into the tournament after a bad knee injury. He had missed the Rugby Championship (which the Boks won) and had to get back on field and perform on the biggest stage.

“It speaks volumes about him that he did that. He was able to perform and it says a lot about the group of players we have too, because Siya had a lot of support from the within leadership of the group. But ultimately Siya handled the pressure remarkably.”

Ideally, the Boks should have been playing already but the coronavirus pandemic has suspended all competition, including Super Rugby. A truncated Rugby Championship involving the Springboks, All Blacks, Wallabies and Pumas is pencilled in to be held in New Zealand in November and December but there are still many issues to overcome for that to happen.

Super Rugby could be dead after NZ announce they will split from SA

In the meantime, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) announced on Friday that they will break away from the southern hemisphere alliance (Sanzaar) and from a new 8-10 team Super Rugby competition, which excludes South Africa. This comes from their Aratipu report, which examined the feasibility of rugby in New Zealand, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

NZR wants total control of its teams and not be dictated to by a Sanzaar match and competition schedule. Like SA Rugby, the NZR has been in talks with private equity companies to underwrite a new structure.

“The reality is that the impact of Covid has been so significant that we’ve had to look at alternatives and a new direction here,” New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said.

“There are a range of different options we’re considering there. We’ve looked at a lot of other professional sports in Australia and around the world to look at ownership models and commissions. They’ll be the sort of things we’ll be talking in more detail about in the coming weeks.

“We haven’t landed on an exact model yet and we’re certainly in consultation with the New Zealand clubs and other parties who are interested in the competition. We’ll be open to people coming into this process with ideas about investment.”

Although this appears to be a shocking revelation, it’s something that SA Rugby (Saru) has anticipated. Saru is already in advanced discussion to increase South Africa’s representation in the northern hemisphere’s PRO14 competition.

“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive human impact and, in our sport, has asked fundamental questions of the viability of competitions and fixture scheduling,” Saru said in a statement on Friday. 

“SA Rugby has been kept abreast of the thinking in New Zealand and of the outcomes of the Aratipu Report to address the immediate challenges of travel restrictions that may stretch into 2021.

“As part of the Sanzaar joint venture we will be examining how the mooted new competition will fit into the existing contracted competitions.”

The NZR proposal potentially leaves Australia in a precarious position because it has nowhere to go. Rugby Australia (RA) simply has to stay linked to New Zealand for commercial survival but the tone of the NZR’s remarks indicate a “take it, or leave it” attitude towards RA.

Recently the relationship between the NZR and RA was described by RA chairperson Hamish McLennan as being like a “master-servant” association.

On Friday, the RA struck a more conciliatory tone in a statement responding to the NZR position.

“Rugby Australia acknowledges New Zealand Rugby’s preferred position following their announcement today regarding a potential future provincial competition from 2021 and look forward to working constructively with NZR in the coming weeks,” the statement read.

“Rugby Australia will also continue its discussions with stakeholders in Australia and is in constant consultation with our valued Sanzaar joint venture partners.

“Due to impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, Rugby Australia recognises that there is a need to review the sustainability and practicality of the current Super Rugby competition and consider alternative models that are in the best interests of Australian Rugby from 2021 and beyond.” DM


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