PORT Elizabeth-born rugby hero Siya Kolisi’s dream debut for the Springboks was avidly watched by African Bombers club players who crowded around a tavern in Zwide after their own game to watch the Boks take on Scotland.
Kolisi was a shining light in an otherwise disappointing Bok performance on Saturday.
The excited African Bombers players – and other hometown supporters – did not have to wait long for Kolisi to come off the bench. The Boks suffered an early injury blow when flanker Arno Botha was wheeled off the field for what appeared to be a knee injury.
His departure just three minutes after the start of the game saw Kolisi receive his first Springbok cap at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
The livewire flanker made a few strong runs with the ball in hand and put in some hard tackles. His strong showing helped the Boks to their 30-17 win over Scotland and brought him an early birthday present when he was named man of the match.
Kolisi celebrated his 22nd birthday yesterday, determined to force his way into the Springbok starting lineup to face Samoa in Pretoria on Saturday.
“This is not for me, this is for all the people of the Eastern Cape who have supported me,” Kolisi said after the match in Nelspruit.
“Most people in Zwide don’t have televisions at home so they would have gone to taverns to watch. I got a message from the guys at African Bombers, who had their own match today.
“They and their opponents all gathered to watch the Boks and support me after their game.”
The unfortunate Botha, who had enjoyed a strong test debut against Italy a week earlier, is likely to be out for the remainder of the season.
His misfortune though has opened the door for Kolisi to stake a claim for a starting berth in the most competitive position in the Bok squad.
Like his Super Rugby debut in the first game of the 2012 season, Kolisi’s entry to a higher level came earlier than expected.
On that occasion, Stormers skipper Schalk Burger left the field early in the game and Kolisi replaced him. He delivered an assured performance and has gone on to be a key member of the Stormers team.
On Saturday, he gave a similarly composed and strong showing, and if given the chance, should grow comfortably in the test arena against better opponents.
“I feel bad for Arno and I hope he gets well soon, but in some ways it’s easier to come off the bench very early in the game,” Kolisi said.
“Waiting on the bench is very hard and it took me a little time to get into the match.
“They [Scotland] came [at us] hard, especially at the breakdown – and they never stopped coming. This is a huge step up from Super Rugby.
“In test rugby, you can’t switch off for a second and stop concentrating because your opponents keep coming.”
Playing as a blindside flank, Kolisi, who attended Grey High, has done enough to warrant elevation to the starting lineup even if Willem Alberts is fully fit.
“It’s never enough in the Springbok jersey because we’ve got some of the best loose forwards in the world, so I’ll leave it to the coach to do what’s best for the team,” Kolisi said.
Flank Francois Louw, who got married in Durban yesterday, will put his honeymoon on hold to re- take his position in the starting lineup against Samoa at Loftus this weekend. – Additional reporting by Sapa
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