Springbok captain Siya Kolisi has risen from a sometimes-overlooked backrow to one of the very best players and captains in the international game.
Beginning his career with at the Eastern Province Kings, Kolisi would move to the bigger Western Province and their Super Rugby side the Stormers.
Making over 150 appearances for the Cape Town based union, Kolisi would rise through the ranks making his Springbok debut in 2013.
Two years into his international career, Kolisi would make the Boks 2015 Rugby World Cup squad as a fringe player and was involved in the now infamous loss to Japan.
This loss would be the catalyst for a Springbok downturn between 2015 – 2018 as the Boks plummeted to new lows including losses to Italy, a home loss to Ireland and Argentina as well as several heavy defeats to New Zealand.
In this span both Heyneke Mayer and Allister Coetzee would be shown the door as Bok head coaches paving the way for the current duo of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber.
In what has proven to be a masterstroke, Erasmus promoted Kolisi to the role of captain.
The rest as they say is history, Kolisi would go on to not only be the first ever black Springbok captain but would also go on to win a Rugby World Cup.
Since then it has been a whirlwind with Kolisi rising through the ranks to superstardom as one of the most recognisable figures in the game.
Now signed to Jay-Z’s Roc-Nation sports agency, Kolisi’s profile has continued to grow outside of the traditional rugby strongholds.
All the while, Kolisi has remained a humble, hardworking yet charismatic leader in both victory and defeat.
Having come up just short in their recent clash with the world number one ranked Ireland, Kolisi was once again magnanimous in his assessment of his side’s performance.
Speaking to Virgin Media immediately after the final whistle, Kolisi maintained his composure saying, “We always knew that it would be tough, and that we’d get minimal opportunities. When we did create opportunities, we didn’t take them and when you play against a world-class team like this… one or two sniffs and they score two tries.
“But congratulations to them, they did well. They stopped our maul, they stopped our scrumming, and they came out firing today, as we thought they would.”
“Ireland are an amazing team,” he added. “The Irish people should really be proud of their team and keep on supporting and celebrating them.”
Whilst Kolisi remained humble, the same could unfortunately not be said for his boss and the current South African Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus.
Erasmus who had just returned from a length ban due to his “leaked” video criticising referee Nic Berry following the Boks loss to the British and Irish Lions in the first test of their 2021 series, was once again at it as he posted from his personal Twitter account.
Tough test match, thanks for all the support from 🇿🇦, also thanks to the Ireland supporters at the Aviva, you definetly understand the game and its great to play in an atmosphere like yesterday ! Surely was a game of big battles,but small margins 👇🏿 pic.twitter.com/Jcjci2Jlvo
— Rassie Erasmus (@RassieRugby) November 6, 2022
A brilliant rugby minds no doubt, Erasmus’s latest shot at a referee (this time Georgian Nika Amashukeli) may well have backfired.
In attempting to point out that Ireland had illegally kicked through a ruck he inadvertently through Kolisi under the bus who was in the process of completing a dangerous neck roll clear-out on Irish Hooker Dan Sheehan.
Away from the field of play, Erasmus’s latest antics are another example of his reactionary behaviour in the face of loss.
It would appear that not only the heavy sanction from World Rugby and the heavy toll it took on Berry’s mental health were not enough to deter this behaviour.
Berry would go on to claim that Erasmus’s actions was a “character assassination” in a lengthy statement that he released in conjunction with World Rugby.
“Needless to say, the whole situation has been an extremely difficult time for my family and I,” he told World Rugby’s judiciary panel.
“As a match official, I understand that our performances will be heavily scrutinised, especially in such a prestigious tournament. However, the public attack on my integrity and character is not something that should be tolerated in any workplace.”
Continuing the statement, Berry highlighted the honour he felt when hearing he had been appointed to officiate a Lions Test.
“I considered officiating in a Lions tour comparable with that in a World Cup. The appointment is a honour which few achieve. However, due to the actions of Mr Erasmus, my family and I have endured a significant amount of distress, and we will only have negative memories of the whole experience.
“I feel that Mr Erasmus engaged in a character assassination of me on social media. I have spent many years trying to build my reputation as an international referee, and in the course of his video, which was posted online, Mr Erasmus has caused it immeasurable damage.
“Though a small proportion of the rugby community will follow the outcome of this matter, and in the process obtain an accurate account of what really occurred, the wider rugby community will only be aware of me in the context of this incident.”
Going further Berry highlighted that whilst Erasmus would in time forget about the incident, it was the referee’s reputation that would unfairly be tarnished.
“I feel that regardless of the outcome and any sanctions imposed, my reputation as a referee and person will forever be tarnished.”
“Throughout this whole ordeal I’ve maintained my professionalism despite being the target of an unprecedented personal attack played out in the media,”
“I felt that Mr Erasmus’ video brought into question my professionalism and my integrity as a match official and that there was an inference to be drawn that I was in some way cheating as an official, which is obviously completely untrue,”
“My reputation throughout the rugby community has suffered immeasurably from his actions, and I acknowledge that the impending investigation will likely lead to more public scrutiny and unwanted media attention,”
“However, his actions are against everything our game stands for and I feel it’s important to take a stand against such behaviour. I sincerely hope that the outcome of the independent judicial hearing will set a precedent to discourage similar behaviour in the future so that no person has to experience what I have these past few weeks.” Berry concluded.
Whilst Erasmus has defended his previous action by denying releasing the Lions Test video himself there is certainly no doubting that he was the one who posted the latest video in relation to the Irish test.
As a sport Rugby is viewed in a prism by many other sports as an example of exceptional sportsmanship with respect towards the officials at the forefront.
In this case it is clear that Erasmus has strayed from these values in pursuit of an external advantage for his team.
Perhaps the most difficult element of this to comprehend is that a man who is clearly highly intelligent and thorough has no issue with releasing an angry mob on a group of people who are crucial to the game we all love.
Criticism is par for the course in all sports, this however stretches further online with vile, unwarranted and frankly unfounded attacks by faceless twitter handles. Thus, the potential that the next generation of referees may believe the consequences are too severe to pick up a whistle would have a hugely detrimental effect on the game as a whole.
In addition to the long term future of refereeing at the top level, Erasmus may well be putting a target on the back of his players by referees who would like to put him in his place.
From a South African perspective, it would be interesting to get a thorough insight into just how Kolisi and the rest of the squad view Erasmus’s antics.
Touching down in France next September, the Boks will have a target on their back as the reigning champions. What they will not want is an external pressure and target from the match officials which has ironically been generated by the very man who turned them from nearly rans to World Champions.