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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Nick Purewal

Rugby World Cup: Siya Kolisi sends message of hope as Springboks’ higher purpose endures

Siya Kolisi pointed to his face, hoping that some youngster in Kwa Gqalane Tavern in Zwide would catch the gesture – then see himself staring back through the TV screen.

The South Africa captain had the Webb Ellis Cup tucked under one arm but was talking animatedly on the Stade de France pitch about hopelessness, fairytales and reality.

Kolisi lived an odds-defying life just to reach professional rugby, let alone becoming the Springboks’ first black captain.

To become just the second captain to lift back-to-back Rugby World Cup trophies, well, there is almost no scale of measurement.

And to do all that just six months after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, there is absolutely no precedent for that.

This township boy whose mother died when he was 15, who grew up worrying how to put food on the table, has conquered the world twice, in succession.

Celebrating with his team-mates could wait though, because Kolisi had a message to impart.

Siya Kolisi - the Springboks' first black captain - is an icon and inspiration to millions (PA)

When Kolisi watched South Africa win the 2007 World Cup final against England in Paris, he stood in Kwa Gqalane Tavern in his home township and thought that what he had witnessed would be forever out of his reach.

Even though, at the age of 16, he was on the cusp of representing the junior Springboks, Kolisi still had no belief that a boy from his background could make it big.

So when he stared down the camera lens and pointed to his face, Kolisi was pointing to the colour of his skin – and telling any youngster watching in Zwide: “You can do all this too”.

There are those who scoff at the Springboks’ higher purpose. Then there are those Springboks who grew up without a TV, without food security, perhaps without a safe family situation.

Good luck telling any of them that loftier ideals are just a narrative construct.

“Look what the Springboks did winning the World Cup for the first time in 1995, we cannot go away from that – without that, I wouldn’t be here,” said Kolisi, minutes after lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time.

“There were people before me who fought for the opportunity for people who look like me to be able to play in this team.

"We show as people from all different backgrounds that it is possible to work together in South Africa, not just on the rugby field but in life in general"

Siya Kolisi

“I’ve got a job to make sure I give everything I can to the jersey, to inspire the next generation, so that they can get opportunities like this.”

For the young Kolisi, a rugby career felt like an out-of-reach fairytale.

For the 62 million South Africans in 2023, unity carries the same strange mix of wistfulness and foreboding.

The Springboks know they cannot change the ills of a society where power supplies have to be rationed, poverty is rampant in some communities and human life can be considered among the lowest of all currencies.

Millions of South Africans wear daily fear like a piece of unwanted clothing.

And then, for two hours at a time, the Springboks take the field and perhaps those garments of dread can be shaken off, if only temporarily.

Rugby will not solve a country’s problems, but Kolisi and his South Africa team-mates truly believe that in blending men of all backgrounds into one common goal, they can set an example and send a message of hope.

“There’s so much that’s going wrong in our country, we are basically the last line of defence,” said Kolisi.

South Africa edged out New Zealand to retain the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris nailbiter (PA)

“So many people who come from where I come from are hopeless.

“There’s so much division in the country, but we show as people from all different backgrounds that it is possible to work together in South Africa, not just on the rugby field but in life in general.”

South Africa prevailed 12-11 in Saturday night’s World Cup final against New Zealand.

Handre Pollard’s four penalties proved just enough for the Boks to retain their trophy, and add a record fourth crown to the 1995, 2007 and 2019 triumphs.

Sam Cane was sent off after 28 minutes, for smashing his shoulder into Jesse Kriel’s face. The New Zealand captain will never get over the dismissal, but he has to accept it was the right refereeing decision.

South Africa beat France 29-28 in the quarter-final, England 16-15 in the last four, and pipped the All Blacks by a point in the showpiece showdown.

Coaches Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber launched the transformation process that has yielded a captain in Kolisi who has now lifted the World Cup twice.

Anyone within the sport will talk fervently about the finest of margins carrying the greatest of differences: maybe that higher purpose does endure.

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