'Reluctant leader' Kolisi the right man to skipper Boks at World Cup

Fans of all ages and races flocked to OR Tambo international airport to get a glimpse of Springboks captain Siya Kolisi, who is the country's first black Bok skipper. Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Siya Kolisi will become South Africa's first black Rugby World Cup captain when the Springboks tackle New Zealand on Saturday, and former Stormers coach Robbie Fleck feels Kolisi is the perfect man for the job.

Fleck, who coached Kolisi at age group level at Western Province, and then made him Stormers captain in 2017, has no doubt the loose forward, also the country's first black Test captain, has what it takes to unite the team and nation.

"Siya is the right man to lead the Boks at the World Cup. He is not only a good leader on the field, but a good leader off it," Fleck, a former Springboks centre, told ESPN.

"He has the ability to bring people together from all walks of life, different cultures and backgrounds. He is open, honest and genuine, and that makes him a great leader and it's why people are so comfortable with him.

"There is an incredible feeling around the team at the moment, something that was there [when the Boks won the World Cup] in 1995 and 2007."

Four years on from primarily carrying tackle bags at the World Cup in the UK, where he came on as a sub twice for 34 tournament minutes, Kolisi is going to lead his country into battle in Japan.

However, he was not a fan of the spotlight when he was younger, according to Fleck, in the same way that a shy Chester Williams, who suddenly passed away this month from a heart attack, was reluctant to be the face of the 1995 World Cup.

"When [Kolisi] first came to us [at Western Province as a teen] he was already an impressive young man. He had a positive energy," Fleck added.

"You could always see that he had leadership skills, but he was a reluctant leader.

"He always led from the front, with his ability to train hard, which earned him a lot of respect amongst management and players. He brought a lot of energy, and did it with a big smile on his face.

"He was extremely raw as a player, and in terms of his personality. But what you saw, was what you got. He wasn't pretending to be anyone else. It was Siya Kolisi, someone who was keen to learn."

Kolisi certainly seemed a reluctant leader when current Bok boss Rassie Erasmus appointed him captain in 2018, ahead of the Test series against England.

He seemed taken aback by all the headlines that followed his historic appointment, and answered most questions as routinely as possible as he got used to the camera glare.

But now he is embracing the job, and becoming a role model for kids, by inspiring those with his background, those who sometimes go to bed without food, or don't think that they can rise up from their circumstances.

"I am very grateful to be the Springbok captain and it is not something that I would have thought of in my wildest dreams," Kolisi said in a recent press conference in Japan.

"It really makes me happy to know that a person from my background or from the background of anybody else in South Africa or a different walk of life, could be sitting here."

In another interview, with SuperSport, he added: "Every time I put on this jersey, it reminds me who I'm playing for.

"Everyone who has ever been hungry. Everybody who has struggled financially, or has walked to school without shoes on.

"I really think an individual can change South Africa and sometimes you got to do something as simple as living your life and fighting for your dreams."

The positivity surrounding Kolisi's team has been backed up by the Boks' recent performances, as they're unbeaten in their past five Tests, including a 16-16 draw against the All Blacks on the way to winning the Rugby Championship this year.

They will hope to replicate or better that effort, which Kolisi did not play in due to injury, in Yokohama on Saturday, and have named an unchanged team aside from the addition of the skipper.