Siya Kolisi Says Being First Black Captain of South Africa’s Rugby Team ‘Took Its Toll’

South Africa’s captain Siya Kolisi, left, and assistant coach Mzwandile Stick, right, attend a press conference during the Rugby World Cup final game Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in Tokyo. South Africa will play England in the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday, Nov. 2. in Yokohama. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Siya Kolisi, the first black captain of South Africa’s rugby team, is relishing the opportunity to lead the Springboks into the World Cup final after acknowledging the role initially “took its toll” on him.

“We have different races in our team and that is one of our strongest points,” Kolisi said Friday, a day before the title match against England in Yokohama, “and that’s something we want to show by the way we play. That we can achieve stuff together as long as we buy into it, whatever it is that we want to achieve.”

Kolisi was promoted to captain in June last year, soon after Rassie Erasmus became coach — a momentous decision in a country that is still trying to fully emerge from the apartheid era. Kolisi was born into tough poverty in a black township created by apartheid.

“It was very tough at the beginning,” Kolisi said, recalling his 16-month journey as captain . “When it got announced, it was a big thing back at home and around the world. It took its toll on me at the beginning and my performance dipped quite a lot.

“We played England in that June series (last year) and I wasn’t playing at my best. I think it was just a bit too much, so I had to work hard on myself.”

Now Kolisi is back in top form and about to lead the Springboks into the final for what will be his 50th test match. His father, Fezakele, will be in the crowd at International Stadium in Yokohama after traveling overseas for the first time in his life.

“It’s one of the things I am grateful for about playing rugby, that we can do things like this for our family members,” Kolisi said.

“One of my best mates is here as well and it’s pretty special. It’s the second time that he (his father) is watching me live — the first game (for the Springboks) and now. It’s really good to have him here.”

Kolisi said he hadn’t seen so much countrywide support for the Springboks since he started playing international rugby in 2013.

“The president (Cyril Ramaphosa) was speaking about it in parliament, asking the whole country to wear Springbok jerseys and, if you are in a car, you must hoot at 1 o’clock,” Kolisi said.

“We know how much rugby means to the country and what it has done in the past. We have the country behind us, which is something huge … I can’t imagine what it would be like (in South Africa if) we win the trophy.”

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80