Beast Mtawarira has paid tribute to the ‘inspirational’ Siya Kolisi ahead of the Springbok captain’s 50th Test appearance in the World Cup final.
The Boks have come a long way since the dark days of 2016 and 2017. Under coach Rassie Erasmus, they have claimed some big scalps and progressed to the point where they are within touching distance of the Webb Ellis Cup.
Not that they will go into the decider against England on Saturday with a complacent attitude. Mtawarira and Lood de Jager – two of the more senior players in the squad – went out of their way to make this point when they fronted the media in Tokyo Bay on Tuesday.
The Boks are looking forward to the challenge. They are determined to pay tribute to their captain in his 50th Test with a performance to remember. They are also mindful of what a World Cup title victory could do for South Africa.
‘What Siya has achieved is remarkable,’ Mtawarira said. ‘For a young kid from Zwide – a township in Port Elizabeth – to rise above his circumstances, to become a Springbok captain and then to lead the way he has … it’s just inspirational.
‘It’s inspirational to South Africans from all walks of life. We’re all proud of him and want to make the occasion special for him this Saturday.’
Mtwarira, the most senior member of the squad with 116 Test caps, went on to speak about what a victory could do for the nation. He also made note of the fact that this team is far more representative of South Africa’s demographics than was the case at previous World Cups.
‘It’s important that the team is well represented,’ the veteran of three global tournaments said. ‘It’s been a privilege to see the team evolve in that respect. The guys of colour have been really excellent and deserving of their places in the squad.
‘It’s something that Rassie was really honest about from the outset. He wanted to get that balance right and we all wanted to have a team that represented our country. I think we’ve achieved that.
‘It would be amazing for South Africa to win the World Cup. A lot has gone into the preparation and it would be great for Siya if you think about the road that he’s walked.’
De Jager made his Test debut a year after Kolisi in 2014. The two forwards have experienced as many lows as highs with the national team in the ensuing years.
‘He’s matured as a player and as a leader,’ the Bok lock said. ‘It’s a great achievement for him to play 50 Tests and we’re very happy for him.
‘1995 had a massive impact on rugby and the country as a whole,’ De Jager added. ‘Hopefully the same will happen again.
‘We can’t get too caught up in all of this, though. We have 80 minutes to go against a world-class England team. Hopefully we come out on top. If we beat England, I’m sure it will be pretty special.’
Matt Proudfoot was asked to explain South Africa’s sense of identity and why the Bok team is so important to the country at a media conference on Wednesday.
The forwards coach said that the players are well aware of what happened in 1995 and 2007 after the Boks won the World Cup. They are hoping to channel the positive energy of the fans back home ahead of their showdown with England.
‘The Springbok is a symbol of hope,’ Produfoot said. ‘If you look at the stories of the players in this team you will understand what can be achieved through hard work.
‘I suppose it’s wrapped up in the psychology of the people. I just think that South Africans are resilient, and that they really love the game.
‘We grow up with it in our schools and it’s a highly supported activity. From a young age you are indoctrinated.
‘When you see a player become a Springbok, they change and they pass that on to the country. There’s a real connection between what it means to be a Springbok between the player and the supporter.’
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