Sport

RWC 2023 COUNTDOWN

Kolisi upbeat about fitness progress as Boks’ drive towards Rugby World Cup gains momentum

Kolisi upbeat about fitness progress as Boks’ drive towards Rugby World Cup gains momentum
Captain of the Springboks Siya Kolisi during the team's training session at Loftus Versfeld B-field on 20 June, 2023 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)

The waiting game will continue until close to the start of World Cup 2023, but injured Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi is confident of being in France.

Like most things in life, timing is everything, and for Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi it looks as if his timing might be spot on again.

He is fighting to full recovery following knee ligament damage and surgery in late April with 8 September, the opening day of Rugby World Cup 2023, circled.

Not that Kolisi has to be at full fitness on that day, or more significantly, that he doesn’t have to be fully fit when the squad is announced sometime in early August.

As long as his recovery is on track and the medical staff and Kolisi himself are sure he can contribute to his full potential at some stage at RWC 2023, he will make the plane to France.

And according to the man himself, the progress is promising and more bearable because he is around teammates and also has experience in this situation.

Four years ago he went through a similar setback, suffering a knee injury in May of 2019. It almost derailed what eventually became one of the fairytale stories of world sport when Kolisi lifted the Webb Ellis Cup.  

“Each day is different, and I take it day by day,” Kolisi said this week about his latest setback.

“This is not the first time I have suffered a knee injury in a World Cup year, so I have the motivation of knowing I’ve been in this position before.

“It’s been hard, but I know that with each passing day, I’m getting better and everything with regards to my recovery is on track.

“I’ve been here before, so I need to take each day as it comes because I’ve been through this. I know that I need to take each day as it comes, but I’m feeling confident that I’ll be fine.

“It’s not nice being in this position, but with coach Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus around, it’s been good to feel backed and supported in this manner.

“The medical team is working really hard and there are other guys in the team who have been through the same thing.”

Siya Kolisi

South African Springboks captain Siya Kolisi (centre) walks with his right knee strapped during their team’’s training session at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria on 14 June, 2023 ahead of the upcoming Rugby Championship in July, 2023. (Photo: Phill Magakoe / AFP)

Play before RWC

Kolisi also revealed some good news when he said he was on track to play before RWC 2023 started. He will definitely miss the Rugby Championship, which starts on 8 July and runs until 29 July.

Following that, the Boks have three pre-RWC 2023 warm-up matches — against Argentina in Buenos Aires (Saturday, 5 August), Wales in Cardiff (Saturday, 19 August) and New Zealand in London (Friday, 25 August).

Kolisi doesn’t need to play in any of those to secure his place as long as the medical prognosis is good, but it would be a confidence booster for both him and the coaches if he did.

“As things stand, if my recovery processes are going in the projected manner, I could be ready to play before the World Cup,” Kolisi said.

The Boks face Scotland in their RWC 2023 opener on 10 September and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus said that Kolisi did not need to be available for that match.

With 33 players allowed in squads for this year’s tournament compared to 31 four years ago, there is some scope for allowing a player with the stature of Kolisi to work his way back to match fitness in the early stages of the tournament.

“Even if he’s not 100% ready for the Scotland Test, it’s a long way away from the World Cup final,” Erasmus said recently. “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.”

Open tournament

Although the Boks have, in public at least, tried to steer conversation towards the Rugby Championship and their opening Test of the season against Australia at Loftus, Kolisi mused about RWC 2023.

For the first time since rankings began, the top two teams going into the tournament are from the northern hemisphere. Ireland and France occupy the top two places and with the latter also having home ground advantage, the tournament is wide open.

“When we prepared for the previous World Cup, no one expected us to win,” Kolisi said.

“We were No 5 in the world, but we are the holders now and we know how hard it will be to go into the World Cup in our position. There are many teams that can win the World Cup, but that’s also very good for the rugby world.

“That’s why I think Rassie and coach Jacques (Nienaber) have done a lot of research because since 2019, rugby has changed a lot and we have had to adapt our style and learn a lot of things. We know we can’t approach it the way we did the last time, a lot of things will change.”

The Boks know as champions they won’t be complete underdogs as they were four years ago, which is something they’re happy to accept.

“The nice thing about this group is that it’s been together for a really long time and we are very realistic and we don’t often get thrown into what people are saying or thinking,” Erasmus said.

“We know in 2019 we were probably the underdogs, now we are world champions, we have to try and defend that and we feel we have as good a chance but we are under no illusions. 

“Australia under Eddie Jones, New Zealand, Ireland are No 1, France are No 2. If you go right through to Scotland who are No 5 currently, it would be stupid to think we have got that favourites tag or not, we are not going to argue on that because there’s no sense in doing that.” DM

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