Kolisi dismisses criticism after being named Bok captain

by Michelle GUMEDE
South Africa's first black Test captain, Siyamthanda 'Siya' Kolisi, brushed off racial tensions that have marred his appointment, vowing Wednesday to lead the national team to victory

South Africa's first black Test captain, Siyamthanda 'Siya' Kolisi, brushed off racial tensions that have marred his appointment, vowing Wednesday to lead the national team to victory.

In his first public appearance since being named Bok captain two days ago, he told journalists in Johannesburg that he wanted to focus on the game and not on the political and racial narratives around his historic appointment.

"I can't focus on what those people are saying, I can only focus on people that really matter to me and who support me," Kolisi said.

"Coach 'Rassie' (Johan Erasmus) is not a politician and I'm also not a politician."

Kolisi this week became the first black to be named South Africa Test captain, ending 127 years of white skippers since the national team debuted.

Controversy has shadowed the 26-year-old flanker's appointment to the prized position with some on social media and in rugby circles seeing his position as a political appointment.

Post-apartheid government and rugby bosses have battled to enforce racial transformation in a team that once barred blacks.

At least 50 percent of the team at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan will be black after a deal was struck between the ruling African National Congress party and rugby officials.

Kolisi said he believed his promotion was genuine and based on his skills.

He pointed out that he and coach Erasmus had known each other since he was 18.

"For the coach to show this much faith in me, I'm just going to give everything I can and do my best and make sure that I deliver.

"I can only control what I can do on the field."

South African rugby has historically been entrenched in racial politics, with the sport viewed as predominantly white.

Blacks were barred from representing the country at rugby during apartheid and progress toward a team reflecting the 92 percent black population of the country has been frustratingly slow.

Although only eight percent of South Africans are white, they have dominated provincial and national rugby teams.

Racial tensions reignited off the field this month when TV analyst and former black Springbok Ashwin Willemse accused two former white internationals of being "patronising".

Willemse stormed off a live Super Rugby show after saying Naas Botha and Nick Mallett, who also coached South Africa, were "undermining" him.

The Springboks play England in Johannesburg (June 9), Bloemfontein (June 16) and Cape Town (June 23).

South Africa's first black Test captain, Siyamthanda 'Siya' Kolisi, brushed off racial tensions that have marred his appointment, vowing Wednesday to lead the national team to victory