DURBAN - Siya Kolisi’s journey to finding his best form reaches Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, and what better platform to restate his case to lead the Boks against the British and Irish Lions than a crunch clash between the unbeaten Bulls and the Sharks, a re-enactment of January’s dramatic Currie Cup final?
Kolisi, by his own admission, is in a battle to get to his best after being mostly inactive since inspiring the Boks to the World Cup crown in 2019.
Last year was mostly a write-off for him because of injuries, and then came his much-publicised move to the Sharks in March where he was promptly sent to boot camp to get fit. He made his comeback in the Sharks’ fourth Preparation Series match, the defeat of the Bulls in Durban on March 27, and now he has had decent game time in the Sharks’ two Rainbow Cup wins, over the Stormers and the Lions.
“Every game I play now counts. If I’m honest, I’m not yet where I need to be. If my performances aren’t good enough then I know for a fact that I won’t be chosen,” the 29-year-old said.
“That’s why I’m just focusing on playing well for the Sharks and working as hard as I can to be part of the Springboks against the British & Irish Lions.”
Against the Stormers and Lions, Kolisi was solid, without shooting the lights out. This is excusable for a player making a comeback, but time is not on his side and each week he needs to incrementally improve.
This brings him to Loftus, and the opportunity to step up a level against a tough pack in which his opposite number, Marco van Staden, has been in excellent form.
Van Staden, who won three caps for the Boks in 2019, was a menace for the Bulls against the Stormers last week, turning over ball at the breakdowns, combining well with Duane Vermeulen on defence and carrying the ball powerfully.
Kolisi needs no reminding that the Bulls are also about to acquire another flanker in sensational form, Marcell Coetzee, who has consistently been one of the PRO 14’s best players, for Ulster.
If the Boks had to play a Test match on Saturday, Coetzee would be in it. And a loose trio of Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Coetzee would be many a critic’s choice to tackle the Lions.
I’m not suggesting Kolisi is in danger of losing his place in the Springbok team — it would be a massive call for Bok coach Jacques Nienaber to drop the World Cup-winning captain, and the first black African to captain South Africa — but at the same time the Boks cannot carry passengers against the Lions.
Let's bear in mind that if Kolisi isn’t ready by July, Nienaber has another exceptional captain to fall back on in Lukhanyo Am, Kolisi’s captain on Saturday.
In short, Saturday at Loftus is a good time for the Springbok captain to up his game, and stop in their tracks critics who are sharpening their pencils…