Why Temba Bavuma looks up to Springbok captain Siya Kolisi

Siya Kolisi and South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa celebrate with the Webb Ellis trophy after winning the World Cup Final.
Siya Kolisi and South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa celebrate with the Webb Ellis trophy after winning the World Cup Final.
Image: REUTERS/Kiyoshi Ota

It will come as no shock to learn that Temba Bavuma looks up to Siya Kolisi.

Standing only 1.62 metres of grit‚ skill and talent tall‚ Bavuma has to tilt his gaze upward to catch the eye of most other figures in elite sport.

But it’s Kolisi who has caught Bavuma’s eye with his inspirational leadership of the Springboks to rugby’s pinnacle — and‚ perchance‚ to a way to turn South Africa’s troubled past and present into a better‚ brighter future.

“I don’t think he really understands the magnitude of what the guys have done‚” Bavuma said after Kolisi captained his team to a 32-12 triumph over England in the men’s Rugby World Cup final in Yokohama on Saturday.

“As a country we’ve gone through tough times‚ not just on the sporting field but off the field as well. Their efforts have united everyone.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of us forgetting about all our problems‚ but it’s given us an escape and a drug for us to remember what this country is all about.”

Kolisi‚ who rose out of abject poverty‚ is central to that hope.

“If you look at Siya and his background and where he’s come from it really gives testimony to the belief that anything is possible if you really believe in it‚” Bavuma said.

“As an international sportsman myself I look up to the guy‚ and the guys around him.

“What they’ve done is something we as the Proteas envision ourselves doing and strive towards doing. They’ve strengthened our belief in doing it.”

As sweet as the invariably thoughtful Bavuma’s words were‚ there was a sting in their tail.

He wasn’t part of the South Africa squad that lost five of their eight completed games at this year’s Cricket World Cup in England‚ but he would have shared their pain nonetheless.

Not that he isn’t used to feeling it.

Bavuma was born in 1990‚ two years before South Africa went to the World Cup for the first time.

Kepler Wessels’ side surprised all by making the semi-finals‚ but that’s as good as it has got for a team who have made an unhappy habit of failing to fire in tournaments.

In seven trips to the World Cup they have yet to reach a final.

In their seven World Cups the Boks have made the final three times — and won all of them.

Rugby and cricket are vastly different games‚ but the cricketers are hopeful some of the Boks’ magic rubs off.

“They’ve proved they can do it on the big stage‚ so we’ll take a lot from that‚” Kagiso Rabada said.

“They’ve showed us how. They were fearless and they played with a lot of passion and organisation. We need to do the same thing.”

Lungi Ngidi‚ too‚ had his nose pressed against the sweetshop window: “Having experienced a World Cup earlier this year with disappointment‚ to see our country do well is amazing.

“That’s the perfect blueprint. These guys have shown us how to do it.

“All that’s left for us to do is also to pull our weight as the South African cricket team.”

So South Africa’s cricketers aren’t deluding themselves that they don’t have a way to go before they can challenge for the one-day format’s highest honour.

But football in our country exists in a bubble of unreality kept intact by the fact that the top tier of the game is the richest league in sub-Saharan Africa and behind only Egypt and Morocco in continental terms.

Closer to the truth are the Fifa rankings‚ which suggest that a dozen African national teams are better than Bafana Bafana.

That said‚ we need to apply perspective to the comparison.

Fifa lists 209 countries in its men’s rankings — South Africa are 72nd overall — while World Rugby has 105 competing sides and the International Council‚ in ODI terms‚ just 20.

It’s a crude measure‚ but it is thus almost twice as difficult to win the World Cup playing football than rugby‚ and more than 10 times harder than it is for cricket teams.

For Bafana to go all the way is the tallest of orders facing all of South Africa’s teams.

But Bavuma can take heart that‚ with less thinking and more doing‚ the Proteas could climb up to the Boks’ level.

At 1.88 metres Kolisi is 26 centimetres taller than the pocket rocket in pads — a significant difference‚ but not enough to stop Zwide’s finest son from looking Bavuma in the eye to tell him he can do it‚ too.