Cape Town – Siya Kolisi, in World Cup year, deserves to be treated far more like national treasure than crudely, constantly-exposed “marketing device”.
I believe there was too much of the latter in 2018, something that almost certainly came home to roost in the Springbok captain’s increasingly muted late-season performances … and could have further, damaging spinoffs if he is not deployed considerably more wisely next year.
He is hardly the only South African player who was subjected to simply too much rugby in the just-completed season, of course, but remember that he has the additional responsibilities – involving elevated mental pressures to accompany the already major physical demands – of both national and franchise leadership.
Which is why it should perhaps not be regarded as a fait accompli that he again lead out the Stormers in the looming next Super Rugby campaign.
Kolisi is an important and overwhelmingly popular unifying figure in South Africa, considering his humble, disadvantaged background and the natural charisma that only aids further his ability to lure to domestic stadiums and television screens new groups of fans – so necessary in challenging economic times, too – who might previously have been more averse or indifferent to the game.
What that meant in 2018, it so clearly seemed, was that the flanker was effectively flogged to death in terms of game-time across the major-rugby spectrum.
According to figures provided this week on www.sarugbymag.co.za, Kolisi was among the quartet (and remember, the only regular across-competitions captain last year in the group) of most active Boks for minutes on the park at first-class level.
Only ahead of the 27-year-old loose forward (2 070 minutes, so almost the equivalent of 26 full games) were Franco Mostert, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Handre Pollard.
There is always noble talk globally of the need for “player management” but – more so in South Africa than on the shores of, for example, world champions New Zealand – it is so seldom accompanied by really tangible action.
Kolisi ran out in front for the Boks in all 13 of their “proper” Test matches during 2018 – excluding only the dubious second-string exercise in Washington DC – and had been similarly, enormously busy both as player and skipper in the Stormers’ campaign.
His load there was only aggravated by the absence for the entirety of Super Rugby of his close friend and other, most senior pack colleague, Eben Etzebeth, through injury.
On that note, the expected presence of the big lock enforcer – also no stranger the national captaincy – in the Stormers’ second row next season opens up even more feasible possibilities for Kolisi to carry less of a load in the 2019 competition.
There is a sound case for arguing that he not lead the franchise at all in World Cup year, and that even if he does, Etzebeth should now be an attractive alternative option for matches where – hopefully – he is shrewdly given rotational breaks to better preserve his lustre for the entire duration of a seismic rugby year.
It is never so simple: the majority of SA’s Super Rugby franchises, like the provinces, are all under varying levels of financial pressure and the temptation to start all of their foremost “poster figures” virtually all of the time must be immense.
Given its much-publicised tumult over the last two years at very least, Newlands is certainly no exception, and 2019 is always intended as an especially “big push” year for the Stormers, given that several core stalwarts’ contracts – at least as things stand – run their course at the end of it.
But the franchise are, at least, blessed with a pleasing array of options at loose forward, which would act as a suitable cushion for Kolisi to have the deserved luxury of not playing week in, week out, for bigger-picture purposes in the second half of the season.
Utility factor Du Toit, Kobus van Dyk, Trokkie Augustus, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Cobus Wiese, Jaco Coetzee, Ernst van Rhyn … those are some of the customers available to staff the loosie cause, in addition to Kolisi.
Hardly helped by his over-exposure in Super Rugby 2018, Kolisi too clearly ran low on gas during the Bok end-of-year tour, unfairly giving ammunition to the critics who question his right both to a routine Test place on the side of the scrum and as national captain … even as he appears to have been given a pretty clear vote of confidence by coach Rassie Erasmus for ongoing tenure of the job into RWC 2019.
Those detractors too easily overlooked his inspired showings in some of the more red-letter Rugby Championship matches and healthy enough parts of the June home series against England … before his mojo almost inevitably started to wane through fatigue in late season.