Bok captaincy is a big deal

Simnikiwe Xabanisa

One of the many things that never cease to amaze about our rugby is our obsession with the Springbok captaincy.

The most recent example is what the rugby public gleaned from a recent interview with Springbok coach Johan “Rassie” Erasmus. Careful not to reveal which way he was leaning on who will lead his first Bok team, Erasmus mentioned just about everyone and their claims to the job.

But the response was to highlight those whose names he didn’t say.

It wasn’t as if God was anointing the Moses of SA rugby players, rather it was a rugby coach talking about the guy to lead his team. Erasmus had tried, to no avail, to take the mystique out of the job not long after he was appointed Bok coach.

“People always say we must make the nation proud. That’s true, but you can only do that by playing really well and winning … [The captain] has to understand that and have the emotional intelligence to understand that if we do those things well the rest of it will happen.

“I want someone that lives that, not someone that says that all the time.”

But even Erasmus, who has a personal relationship with the Bok captaincy because he once turned it down, understands that downplaying it isn’t the simple answer. Looking at his possible reasons for turning it down – either feeling too immature for it or not up to the constant scrutiny that comes with it – there clearly is an otherness attached to leading the Boks.

It’s a big deal: over and above your Springbok number you get a captaincy number, your own room on tour and each media outlet breaks out a whole new profile on you as if you haven’t been playing the game for the last five years.

And suddenly, because you can call set moves on the field, corporate South Africa thinks you’re in possession of the sprinkle of gold dust that can turn their company from good to great. If you don’t believe that, think of how former Bok captains Francois Pienaar and John Smit ended up at Rand Merchant Bank and Sharks CEO respectively after they retired.

And I was there when a SuperSport executive promised Jean de Villiers a job with the pay channel the moment he retired in 2015, even though his only qualification was to play for the Boks for two years too long.

That said, there most definitely is a place for an inspirational, diplomatic even, figure to lead the Springboks. Who could forget Pienaar walking the tightrope of this country’s socio-political issues and trying to beat the All Blacks?

And is there a more iconic picture than that of a substituted Smit having to return to the field in the first Test against the British and Irish Lions in Durban, palms facing downwards to signal his troops to calm down after they’d blown a massive first half lead and were holding on for dear life?

But having guys like that comes with a couple of drawbacks.

The first is, the coach sometimes finds himself having to accommodate a player who is not the best in his position in the team (think Pienaar and Tiaan Strauss, and Smit and Bismarck du Plessis). The other is, the rest of the team tend to outsource their leadership responsibilities to the chosen one.

With regards to the latter, how often have our teams fallen to pieces while on form simply because their captain was injured and couldn’t play?

There’s no denying that our past, present and future as a country are taken into consideration when making what should be a simple enough decision of who will lead a rugby team. If you don’t buy that, consider the ultimately uninspired decision to give Eben Etzebeth, and not Siya Kolisi, the captaincy once Warren Whiteley was ruled out with injury last year.

And with that kind of maze to negotiate in picking a captain, what chance of getting a guy like Gary Teichmann, who was best in his position and an important cog – and not the only one – in a complicated machine needing 23 players to play their part for it to work?

- Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Let's chat

  • Barry Smith

    Wow, I’m really tired of hearing the Siya Kolisi argument raising its head yet again!! He’s a solid player, but for peaks sake, take a look at his Captaincy success at Province before you start suggesting that he take up the National reins!

    • Redge

      Omg! So when a team under perform you blame the captain? It’s easy to lead a top team. Do you think the Boks will be no 1 in the world if we import Read from NZ? Wake up and thanks god Rassie won’t listen to all the clever comments….. all about every guy’s own province. That’s the main reason why our rugby is in such a state. The Bulls want their captain as Bok captain, Stormers theirs, sharks theirs and Lions supporters want all 15 in the starting lineup.

    • Dr Hoffman

      U are missing the most important point. Kolisi is the right colour, simple as that, no need to look further. He would be the perfect captain of the Racist boks,

      • Redge

        Shame what colour I may ask? You green much?Dr, dr my a……

  • Chris

    Xabanisa, it’s clear that your whole article was only about Kolisi not getting the captaincy . How pathetic . He has achieved nothing yet as captain of the Stormers . He isn’t close to being an inspirational captain , not that Etsebeth is . Kolisi is a good player yet won’t be picked in most other countries”s teams . Etsebeth is one of the 3 best locks in the world and would walk into all other teams . It seems to me this writer wants Kolisi as captain because of his skin colour but doesn’t realise that that i’s a great insult to the player .
    Kolisi is still young and relatively inexperienced . Leave him be to develop as a player and then maybe into a captain .

  • John Comyn

    Simnikiwe – you don’t say who you think should be captain! I think the Siya/Eben call was because AC was not sure Siya was the best in his position. One thing is for sure is if Rassie is looking for “emotional intelligence” the next captain ain’t going to be Etzebeth. Whitely ticks all the boxes but needs to overcome the injury thing.

    • Redge

      Whiteley is more injured than available he will be a crock in 2019. Select a young guy

      • Stanley

        but who to pick from the young guns?

  • Sharky

    When it comes to selecting the Bok captain I usually don’t comment. Not because I don’t care but because a lot of being a good captain takes place out of the public eye. It’s about the team make-up, the respect the guy has among his men, his ability to squeeze that extra bit out of them and make the critical decisions in the heat of the moment. Yes we may have an understanding of a player’s temperament and composure, but teams with a great captain can still play badly, and a great captain can still make idiotic decisions if he is playing according to an imposed gameplan. Basically, a guy who is a fantastic captain in the Sharks setup may be an abysmal in the Bulls squad.

    So as a member of the public I have no clue whether Eben, Kolisi or Whiteley would be a better captain because I have not insight into the Bok team dynamic, what relationships and personality-types are at play and exactly what Rassie’s plans are for the team. All of those elements play a role and none (or very few) are well understood by Joe Public.

    So, yes, argue over who the best flyhalf is – a flyhalf’s merits are open for all to see every Saturday. But arguing over who should be the Bok captain…? As the American’s say “the proof is in the pudding”. So let’s wait for the tasting before we pass judgment.

    • Ernest

      Great comment! I think this is the most sense any1 has spoken.

    • craig

      Great comment

      Its not so much about getting the appointment of a captain right , but the disaster that follows in picking the wrong person for the position

  • Ntoni

    Siya is defnitley not the best in his position.i would choose someone that is the best. malcolm marx is our captain. everybody will follow him in my humble view. tx

    • Redge

      So he don’t have to proof himself as a good captain first? He’s not even the 2nd choice captain at the Lions! Rassie will discuss the matter with senior players not with us seeing that they know the player, evaluate their input and make a call. Kolisi might even be a very popular choice between the players.

  • Dean

    It’s simple really, pick the best team first and then select a captain. I’m sure Rassie has a long term vision already of what his 23 will look like for that first World Cup match next year. It’s no secret that he favors Whiteley as his first choice. However, those chronic injuries are a concern. I’m sure that by the end of the year there will already be a bunch of players who could step into the role with ease. We’re already developing strong leaders all around the park. I think that Marx would be a great option in the future. 23 yrs old only, among the best hookers in the world already and he epitomizes the way Springbok rugby is played.

    • Redge

      Well that didn’t happen when Pienaar or Smit was captain and they were successful

      • Dean

        What do you mean? John Smit was the best hooker in the country when he was chosen as captain in 2004. Bismarck only made the 2007 World Cup squad due to an injury to Pierre Spies. Look it up. Smit remained the best hooker while Bismarck was still young, up until the 2009-2010 season. You saying that Pienaar wasn’t the best player in his position? Then who was? Tiaan Strauss played no 8 and never got picked in the World Cup squad of 1995.

        This is a misconception. When they were made captains they weren’t the best players in the whole team BUT they were the best in their positions. ESPN had a show where a selection panel chose the best 15 World Cup players ever and both Smit and Pienaar featured regularly in them. Those teams were chosen by experts and former players.

  • Bull

    Ok, for the most part all I see is people turning this into a Siya grinding session. Witch actually makes me wonder if indeed he wasn’t the best choice for captaincy at the above mentioned time. I mean, if your arguments are based solely on the Stormers achievements under him then you have to look at his teams achievements honestly aswel as all other SA teams at the same level at the argued period not now. Look at how good and consistent he had been, the challenges his leadership overcame. Bear in mind the coach he played under, I am sure if this was in fact that type of argument your prejudices would not play a part as honest South African rugby supporters. Finally I in fact agree that there should be more taken into consideration when selecting a captain and not just form, look at the individual character and his abilities in and off the field. Warren whiteley was injured looking at the leadership group who in fact should have been selected honestly, was the man’s question. He was not advocating for Siya’s nomination but rather, asking whether the criteria for selection should possibly be altered slightly.

    • Barry Smith

      “Uninspired decision to give Eben Etzebeth the Captaincy rather than Sita Kolisi”. This makes for pretty plain reading and we do not need you to interpret it for us thanks!

  • Reynard

    I don’t think we (SARU & rugby public) should fall in the Smit / Pienaar trap again. Yes, they were good leaders, but we need guys that deserve their position anove anyone else. I like to see a young leader taking thw boks to the next couple of world cups. 2 options comes to mind: Marx isn’t a bad call and Pollard need to prove he is the best 10. Siya is inspirational, but I’m not convinced that he is the best flanker. Let’s hope Whiteley recovers soon to lead from the front (if a younger option is not part of the scope).

  • Don Johnstone

    Notshe will be a Bok captain one day.

    • Redge

      Jantjies? Earl Rose?

    • Dr Hoffman

      Who’s that? Nutsy who?

  • Wesley

    Whatever his reasons to say Kolisi’s overlook and Eben being chosen was uninspirational, i agree with Simnikiwe – heres why… not having the hindsight of Kolisi’s performance this year so far, last year he was playing well, great motivator and im sure alot of respect with his team as well as a massive inspiration to the country especially black people. Finally a true black Bok captain not only for a non-test like Chilli was. Would have been great. But playing under Toetie would have its own downsides. Eben for me was not the inspiration the Boks needed. He is no great talker nor humble, which is perfect for his enforcer style. He goes quiet under the kosh just like Strauss did the year before. No one sticks out to me this year, not even Kolisi. Pollard neither. Marx also a quiet force, which is not great for a captain. I dont know the team dynamic so cant comment there, but no one brings it like we know Warren does to the public with his humble way and out on the field where we see him talk and motivate and getting his team going. I see more of a likeness with him and Rassie, like Jake and John, Kitch and Pienaar. The Lions are missing him and the Boks sorely last year as well. Lets hope he gets back well.

  • LaPorte05

    A team captain is a multi year decision building towards a world cup, perhaps even two. A representative role that goes way beyond being best in a position, which in my view is short sighted and lacking vision and consistency. Look at Smit vs Bismarck, sure Smit was 30% below Bismarck in terms of individual performance, but Smit could get an extra 20% out of 22 players – in the balance a massive benefit and he did it for years with the trophies to show for it. Worth way more than individual brilliance – no player in the world can be best in a position for years, even McCaw had quieter matches and seasons but was never disputed as leader. To my mind Kolisi is the only choice as Bok captain now to the 2019 RWC and I am glad he did not get the nod last season cause the performance slump would have been blamed on him. Now is the time for a decision that can inspire a viable future for SA rugby.

    • Barry Smith

      Your post makes a lot of sense, untill you hit the last paragraph, where you conclude therefore that Kolisi should be Captain. With respects, the on-field leadership in the Stormers this year has been abysmal! Compare for example what Chris Van Zyl managed to achieve in the Currie Cup with Province! There was cohesion and unity in the Currie Cup side which there certainly is not in the Stormers! I have no issue with the selection of a black Captain and understand the benefits of unity, but who ever that might be, they need to be able to lead!

  • Stanley

    My personal opinion: never make your best player captain. In our case that would be Eben, Marx, Gelant. Kolisi don’t stand out as a leader for me nor did Eben when he was in charge of the Boks for that short while. Certain players like Kohli, Smith (perhaps ball tampering helped him LoL), Hooper. I don’t think Read as captain is better than Read when he was not captain – perhaps because he had to wait soooooooooooo long for McCaw to retire. I am a Stormers supporter, but have to say that Whiteley is the only one standing out at the moment. Perhaps Rassie will spring a surprise ala Graeme Smith and pick someone from ‘outside’ and elect him captain from game number one as well. I like Strauss very much, but he surely can’t keep Marx out of the team on the basis of being captain. I feel for Rassie on this one. Let’s go with Pollard, because he can rotate between 10 and 12 should somebody else push him from time to time for the starting 10. PS: I am a big Elton fan, but won’t cry should he be benched because Pollard is captain. Elton can ‘play’ and Pollard can kick & defend as Elton is the better playmaker.

  • JohanT

    What about a player like Dwaine Vermeulen? He made a huge difference in the game against Italy last year.

  • Mark Kruger

    If the best players were chosen on Merit, there will be a captain. When teams are chosen on racist transformation ther will not be a good captain and he will always suffer as merit players and transformers do not gel.

  • Michael Settas

    Given the nature of injuries in modern rugby, just as we see now with Whitely, and periodic loss of form, as we now see with Kolisi, there should be several players pre-selected by the coach. This means that each candidate will have time to personally consider taking it on and not have it foisted onto someone who has not previously given it much consideration. This also means that when a captain loses form, there are other options. It also means you create a leadership team within the squad father than placing all the leadership pressure on one player. A captain with 2 vice-captains. For my money, that team now would be Kolisi, Lambie and Whitely. That obviously depends if Lambie is on Rassie’s radar. If not, then I think Mostert has been doing a good job since Whitely’s injury.

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