Mark Keohane: Kolisi needs to up his game after awful April
A month ago I motivated in a column that Rassie Erasmus’s Springbok captain in June should be Siya Kolisi, but his form in the Stormers last three derby matches has been so indifferent that he currently wouldn’t be guaranteed to make the starting XV.
Kolisi is an outstanding rugby player. I’ve led the cheer-leading for the last two seasons when it comes to his qualities as a rugby player.
I’ve described him as ‘King Kolisi, Sizzling Siya, Kolisi the Colossal and Super Siya’, but against the Bulls, Lions and Sharks the Stormers captain was an imitation of the player who was such a commanding presence for the Springboks in 2017.
Kolisi needs a huge next month to ensure there is no doubt that his form warrants him starting the June internationals. He, by his own admission after the Lions defeat, has not been up to standard.
Kolisi’s honest appraisal of his own performance after the Lions loss in Johannesburg was admirable but is was equally disconcerting. How could the captain of the Stormers be so off for a local derby of such importance? What is going on at the Stormers where the likes of Kolisi in the last month have gone from the penthouse to the sh**house?
Is it a case of fatigue? Is he being played too much or is it over training?
The qualities of the player are not in question but it’s the consistency and impact that has been lacking in the last month.
Kolisi had the one surge of brilliance against the Sharks in the 37th minute that created the Stormers opening try. He showed his attacking class with a subtle inside ball to set up Damian de Allende’s run, kept pace with his support, turned the support run into a gallop of his own and made the final offload in the tackle for Raymond Rhule’s try. Kolisi took out the two cover defenders and showed patience and skill and confidence in the timing of the release.
But it’s the Kolisi raw power in defence that has been absent since he tossed the Blues players around like rag dolls a month ago.
Kolisi’s strength in the tackle has always been a feature of his game. There’s the vivid recall of him holding up All Blacks Ma’a Nonu on the tryline at Ellis Park some years back and of him smashing players back in the tackle. His work rate for the Stormers against the Blues was in keeping with his work rate in Test rugby in 2017. That Blues game was the exception and Kolisi can’t afford those inconsistencies if he is to be the leader of the next cycle of Springboks.
Lions captain Warren Whiteley was named the 2017 Springbok captain but his international season was cut short after two Tests. Eben Etzebeth was an admirable stand in for Whiteley in the 2017 season.
Whiteley is understood to be Rassie Erasmus’s preferred option to start at No 8 and also be the captain, but ongoing injury concerns could scupper that intention. Whiteley missed most of the 2017 season and played only a couple of Super Rugby matches this season before injury again struck.
Etzebeth has not played all year because of recovery from surgery in the off-season.
Etzebeth and Whiteley are assets to any team but it looks more unlikely they will be available for the four June internationals.
Kolisi is the most prominent South African Super Rugby captain and would seem the logical Springbok captain replacement for the injured duo, but he is not making it easy on himself or Erasmus with the sub-standard rugby he has been playing.
Many a very good All Black in the last decade kept their best rugby for Tests. These top players would have their credential questioned every season because of a lack of presence in Super Rugby, yet the moment they played for the All Blacks they were lethal.
There have been the odd South Africans in recent times who also produced far more compelling performances in Test rugby than in Super Rugby.
Do we accept Kolisi may be of that variety of player that keeps his best for country and mentally lifts to another level when wearing a green and gold jersey? I don’t know if it is that simple when you are talking about a possible captain.
A captain’s starting position never should be questioned, which is why I am not convinced with Sport 24’s Senior Sport Writer Rob Houwing’s view that Bulls flyhalf Handre Pollard be the captain of the Springboks in June.
There’s merit to the view that Pollard is a future captain, as he captained the SA Schools and SA U20s and has always been a leader of teams. But Pollard isn’t guaranteed starting at No 10.
And frankly at this moment, neither is Kolisi guaranteed a place in the run on XV. It’s been an awful April for Kolisi and he needs a mighty May to find his mojo if June is to be more joyful than jolting.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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