Kolisi on track to make it RWC 2023 after knee surgery, says Bok coach

Kolisi on track to make it RWC 2023 after knee surgery, says Bok coach
Moments after this picture was take of Munster's Shane Daly tackling Siya Kolisi, the Bok skipper went down with knee ligament damage. It has put his entire RWC 2023 participation in doubt. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Gallo Images)

The news from the Bok camp is good as Siya Kolisi races against time to be fit for the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.

The Boks have been here before, and it worked out pretty well. Four years ago captain Siya Kolisi, coming off a strong 2018 season, injured his knee in May 2019 and was in a race against time to be fit for the Rugby World Cup in Japan five months later.

Cut to this year and Kolisi, coming off a strong 2022 season, injured his knee on 22 April in a United Rugby Championship (URC) match against Munster and had surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament.

He is now in a race against time to be fit for RWC 2023 in France, which starts on 8 September. But the news from the Bok camp this week was positive. 

He has been “hitting all his markers”, and looks set to be among the 33 chosen to defend the Webb Ellis Cup in France.

“In terms of the full extent of his knee injury, I don’t think I’m qualified medically and I think that’s something for Siya to discuss in terms of medical and personal information. I don’t think it’s my place to do that,” Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber said.

We’ll give [Siya] enough time because history has shown us he doesn’t need Test match time before a World Cup.

“In terms of where he needs to be with regards to recovery and rehabilitation, I think he’s on track and he’s hitting his markers currently.

“There will be specific markers in terms of where he needs to be on a specific day and ticking boxes, but he’s currently ticking his boxes.

“When he’ll return will depend on how he’s ticking his markers, but do we think he’ll be ready for the World Cup? Yes, we do.

“Remember that in 2019 Siya didn’t participate in matches until the Argentina game in Tshwane, from where he got a start against Japan (in a pre-World Cup Test) in Japan.

“Siya’s a guy who’s done it before and we’ll give him enough time because history has shown us he doesn’t need Test match time before a World Cup.”

Rotating leadership

Four years ago Kolisi was clearly underdone at the start of the tournament in Japan after missing the entire Rugby Championship and most of the build-up to the tournament.

But a RWC, from start to finish, is six weeks long, and it gives players time to recover and gain fitness. Barring a massive setback in his rehabilitation, Kolisi looks a certainty to lead the Boks again.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Boks follow in Napoleon’s footsteps from Corsica as they plot to rule France at RWC 2023

However, he will miss the Rugby Championship and possibly all three RWC warm-up matches that follow. The Boks have six Tests scheduled before the start of the showpiece tournament and ideally they’d like to see Kolisi make an appearance in at least one of those.

But he is under no pressure to prove himself as a player. If the medical team gives the all-clear, even if he hasn’t played a match by the time the squad departs on their French campaign, he will be on the plane.

In the meantime the management has no plans to appoint a permanent captain. It’s likely that the role will be shared among players such as flyhalf Handre Pollard, lock Eben Etzebeth, centre Lukhanyo Am and possibly flank Pieter-Steph du Toit, who have all captained South Africa previously.

Siya Kolisi tried playing on for a few minutes after suffering a knee injury early on during the United Rugby Championship match against Munster. But he had to withdraw and subsequently had an operation to repair his anterior cruciate ligament. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports / Gallo Images)

That’s also due to the fact that there is likely to be a fair amount of experimentation with the team in the build-up. Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus made it clear that the truncated 2023 Rugby Championship is the immediate priority. World Cup plans will follow on after that.

“The bottom line is that he’s our captain and we won’t replace him in that role. We’ll have stand-ins (as captain),” Erasmus said.

“With the three warm-up games that we have, we believe that in the way that he’s hitting those markers, he may feature in one of those games.

“Even if he’s not 100% ready for the Scotland Test, it’s a long way away from the World Cup final. With him being our captain, having been there and done that, it’s maybe the match before the World Cup.

“If he’s hitting the markers, which he’s currently doing, and we can get him with the conditioning team and we’re almost match-fit in how we simulate training, he’s the kind of guy who can do it before the World Cup.

“We’re fairly confident that he can go to the World Cup.” DM


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