Bok captain Siya Kolisi reflects on challenges faced to win Lions series
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi reflected on the monumental challenges the team had to overcome to secure their come-from-behind series victory over the British & Irish Lions.
His team secured their place in the pantheon of great Springbok sides by beating the Lions 19-16 in the deciding Test‚ while carrying the considerable mantle of world champions.
The Bok team from 2009 carried the same distinction.
Rugby World Cup champions however tend to lose their gloss as players retire and coaches rebuild in a new four-year cycle but the Springboks, who had been inactive for 20 months before playing a lead up Test against Georgia‚ gradually warmed to the task of taking down the Lions.
With limited preparation and actual positive Covid-19 cases in their ranks‚ the Springboks kept their eye on the prize‚ not that they were going to put the pandemic forward as an excuse had they fallen short.
“This group had so many challenges‚ with our first proper training just before the first Test.
"We decided though that there will be no excuses – people would not accept that anyway. We knew if we step onto the field‚ we needed to be ready to play‚” said Kolisi.
Apart from having to find a way back into the series after going one-nil down in the opening rubber‚ the Boks had to find ways of repelling the buoyant Lions at the start of the deciding Test.
The tourists dominated the opening half but could only go into the break four points to the good.
Bok plans had to be hatched to swing the momentum after the break.
“Our attitude was ‘let's move on and find the solutions’‚” said coach Jacques Nienaber.
For the Boks to claw their way back into the game and maintain that momentum their bench had to bring impetus and they duly delivered.
“It was a call made by the coaching staff‚ we sit high up in the box and can see some things happening and Rassie Erasmus is down there next to the field‚ and he also observes‚” explained Nienaber.
“Then we chat and make a call. We were fortunate that our subs were spot on today‚” said the coach.
After the normally reliable Handre Pollard missed three kicks the biggest call was to get Morne Steyn onto the field.
Steyn had two successful attempts‚ the second effectively sealing victory with less than two minutes left to play.
While the Lions bossed the first half‚ the Boks battled and battered their way back into the contest.
The Lions though weren't ready to relinquish their position of strength and the match went into a nerve jangling final quarter with the result seemingly heading for a draw.
“The ebb and flow of the game was like the Rugby World Cup final all over again‚” recalled Nienaber.
“We knew we had to hang in there and make sure every player stayed in the game.
"This was a serious test of decision-making and character‚ and we came through‚” said the coach.
Kolisi had high praise for the coaching staff and try scoring dynamo Cheslin Kolbe‚ who scored another crucial try with the pressure at its most intense.
“Cheslin does not use many opportunities - today he just needed one. Willie le Roux was another – the backs came through when we needed them.”
The psychology the coaches used to bring the best out of the players also paid dividends.
“You cannot motivate people anymore with rugby stories‚ what is driving everyone is what matters‚” said Kolisi.
“They know how to get us up emotionally. It was easy to play for South Africa‚ although they were not here.
"People came out today on our way to the stadium. They did not have to‚ but still they came to wish us luck.
"You cannot let them down.”