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Kolisi set to Roc Sharks as he starts all over again

Kolisi set to Roc Sharks as he starts all over again
Siya Kolisi unveiled as Cell C Sharks Player at Johnson Kings Park Stadium on February 17, 2021 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)

Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi is set for a “new beginning” at the Sharks, but his departure from Western Province hasn’t been received well in Cape Town.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

In the milling around following the press conference announcing Siya Kolisi as a Sharks player on Wednesday, one of the sports writers took the opportunity to gently rib the Springbok captain about the parlous state of a subject close to his heart, Liverpool Football Club.

“Don’t go there, leave my boys alone,” Kolisi warned in the mock indignation die-hard fans adopt when defending their side’s dip in form, before turning to the Sharks’ communications team for intervention. “He’s asking me about Liverpool!”

It’s hard not to draw parallels between the ex-Stormers captain’s current situation and that of the champions of England: title campaigns defined by intensity and relentlessness (Kolisi to the World Cup with the Boks and Liverpool to the Premier League) have given way to more whodunit questions about their form than an Agatha Christie novel.

Whatever the questions, Kolisi seemed sure this week that the only answer that mattered lay in “going again”, to borrow from former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s in-huddle utterance that heady but ultimately ill-fated evening BS (before the slip).

How Kolisi left Cape Town for Durban looks set to be shrouded in mystery, conjecture, narrative and counter-narrative between the Stormers and the Sharks.

Perhaps wary of their historical reputation slipping into relic status after losing both their would-be equity partners MVM Holdings and Kolisi – who they developed for 11 years into arguably the most marketable player in the world – to the Sharks, the Stormers have privately insisted the 29-year-old ending up in Durban was a negotiated condition by the American consortium.

This is because Vincent Mai, a close associate of Kolisi’s from the Eastern Cape, and Michael Yormark, the president of Roc Nation – his representatives who now also look after marketing the Sharks’ brand – formed part of the MVM Holdings consortium.

But the Sharks, through their CEO Eduard Coetzee, at Kolisi’s unveiling made it all sound a simple case of a franchise that pounced on a player who became available because his contract came up for renewal.

“There isn’t a transactional element to the Roc Nation contract,” Coetzee began. “We didn’t sign with Roc Nation to get Siya Kolisi, and Siya Kolisi didn’t sign for us to get Roc Nation … From a business strategy perspective it makes sense for us to align with Roc Nation, we’re all about off the field fan and player engagements – our marketing social media engagements aren’t the biggest in South Africa for no reason.

“Roc Nation is Siya’s commercial agent, but commercial agents don’t do rugby player deals. There is a correlation but it’s not a deciding thing. I honestly believe that Siya Kolisi would be sitting here even if it wasn’t for Roc Nation.”

While one is inclined to lean towards the Stormers’ interpretation because Coetzee is right – Roc Nation didn’t negotiate for Kolisi to go to Durban, but MVM Holdings is reliably believed to have done so. Their narrative can’t exactly hold sway when the player claims to have practically eWalleted them the compensation (reported to be R1-million) they demanded for his early release.

New beginnings

Regardless of the light editing both sides may have applied to the facts, Kolisi now, ironically has the new beginning his, on-field career was desperate for after trading for much of the period since the 2019 World Cup as the first black captain to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

“It feels like my first day at school,” said Kolisi. “I’ve got the same feeling as I had when I started playing rugby. I’ve got to start fresh again, I’ve got to fight again and I’ve got to earn the respect of my new teammates.

“What I did in the past doesn’t really matter; I have to prove myself once again and I really believe this is the perfect time for it. Last year was really tough for me as a rugby player and from a playing and conditioning perspective I wasn’t up to standard.”

Kolisi’s negligible contributions on the field for the Stormers and Western Province in recent months have come in for scrutiny and inspired reams of column inches attempting to get to the bottom of why his performances had fallen off a cliff while his face became ever more ubiquitous thanks to the endorsement work he’s been doing.

The Bok captain was adamant that he hadn’t allowed “the main thing” to no longer be the main thing as per the Springbok motto: “I’m a player that has to play five games in a row, especially at the beginning of the season.

“I didn’t get that because I got injured in the first game [against the Hurricanes]. I didn’t really do pre-season because we [the Springboks], were given time off because we were away for so long, so I had no [conditioning] base and I need that.

“I got injured in my first game, the season was stopped [due to the Covid outbreak], I hurt myself in the first competition afterwards [Super Rugby Unlocked] and then Covid hit my family. So there was never consistency and that played a huge role.”

Coetzee squashed speculation about whether Kolisi would automatically take the captaincy off fellow Springbok Lukhanyo Am. The quiet, shy Am is an immensely popular figure at the Sharks, something explained by their head coach Sean Everitt last year.

“Although he’s not an outspoken person by nature, his quiet confidence instilled a sense of calm and assuredness in the people and players around him,” explained Everitt. “Although they had no say in who was going to be captain he was a popular choice because there was a huge roar in the team room.”

The elegant solution for the moment is that Kolisi needs to focus on getting himself fit for rugby purpose by undergoing a two-month conditioning phase, which DM168 understands will see him pay attention to his commercial responsibilities in the first month and then fully focus on rugby in the second.

No captaincy for now

With Everitt having told Kolisi in their chat that he wouldn’t put pressure on him to play immediately, the captaincy question is taken care of for the time being.

“Do I see Siya as a captaincy option? That answers itself – Siya led the country to World Cup victory so, from that point of view, yes,” said Coetzee. “Are we going to make Siya captain of the Sharks? Not at the moment.

“The reason for that is we want to create an environment for Siya to thrive, and at the moment that would be with the least amount of pressure possible. The fact that Lukhanyo did an unbelievable job makes that argument a lot stronger.

“Selfishly, it would have been easy to make Siya captain because it would be an unbelievable thing for the Sharks and for the squad. He’ll still walk into a changing room and be a leader, but it’s in his best interests to keep Lukhanyo on as captain – and it helps that they get on well.”

The “not at the moment” part in that answer suggests there will be a time when the topic becomes a serious discussion, otherwise it would have made little sense for MVM Holdings to motivate as heavily for Kolisi’s move if they didn’t want arguably the most marketable player in the world as the face of their franchise.

Despite only being a Sharks player for a few hours, Kolisi’s touch was already evident around King’s Park. Having attended the Sharks’ “I See Colour” induction with the latest academy intake, Kolisi was already dispensing those Jurgen Kloppesque hugs, taking pictures with all and sundry, and tracking down a passing JP Pietersen, a recently retired ex-Springbok teammate.

Asked where he saw himself in the Sharks loose-trio when he comes up to speed, Kolisi sounded like a man keen to avoid the traffic jam brewing at openside flank. Dylan Richardson and James Venter are already there, so Kolisi reminded all that he’s always been an openside flanker of the carrying, rather than fetching, variety.

And for those wondering if his ambitions are now measured in his next visit to Anfield, Kolisi pointed out that he has yet to win the SA Player of the Year Award and has never been in the conversation for its World Rugby version.

The man with the most incredible story in rugby looks set to go again. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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