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It would be special for Boks to triumph with Kolisi as our skipper: Mtawarira

Blazing trail: Siya Kolisi is the Boks’ first ever black captain
Blazing trail: Siya Kolisi is the Boks’ first ever black captain
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

When South Africa last won a World Cup in 2007, current captain Siya Kolisi watched on from a tavern as his family didn't own a television.

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Now, he stands just one victory away from emulating Francois Pienaar and John Smit by lifting the Webb Ellis trophy himself.

Twenty-four years on from the indelible images of Nelson Mandela in Pienaar's No.6 jersey, the Springboks are 80 minutes away from winning again with their first ever black captain, a 28-year-old from the township of Zwide, made skipper by Rassie Erasmus ahead of the series with England last summer.

"It would be extra special," said Tendai Mtawarira of the possibility of winning with Kolisi as their leader. "Siya is an inspirational leader. In the way South Africa has got behind him, it means a lot to unite the country. He has been exemplary. It would be amazing to win this World Cup with him as captain."

The 34-year-old Mtawarira, born in Zimbabwe but possessing South African citizenship, cannot remember the triumph of 1995 but made his debut less than a year on from the win in 2007.

"I was just a primary school kid in Zimbabwe back then," he recalled of South Africa's World Cup on home soil. "I didn't watch rugby then, I was playing soccer.

"In 2007 it was amazing, inspirational stuff, and to be part of a World Cup final (now) is a dream come true for me. I have worked hard throughout my career to get here and I want to make it count. It means a great deal.

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"There is a lot of excitement back home, lots of fans rallying behind the team, and that is inspiring for us. We just want to go out there and represent our country in the best way we can."

The way to do that, believes lock Lood de Jager, is to draw upon the tougher aspects of growing up in the country.

"Our captain grew up in a township, go there and see for yourself," he reflected.

"He's a big inspiration. There's a lot of guys that came from poverty and really tough circumstances to make it to this level. A lot of people grew up in tough places and rural places and they need to bring that out. It's great playing with those guys and you draw some inspiration from that.

"South Africa's a tough place to grow up. There's a lot of stuff, it's dangerous. It's a lovely country, and I love it, but it's a tough place to grow up.

"We don't psyche each other up and bang our heads against the wall. It's tough growing up in South Africa and you have to bring that out when you're on the pitch."

For his part, Kolisi gives Erasmus huge credit for transforming the Springboks' mentality, taking them from a side ranked seventh in the world when he took over, one who were beaten 38-3 by Ireland as recently as 2017, into finalists at this global showpiece.

"He gave me my first contract when I was 18-years-old, so I've known him for a while," smiled Kolisi.

"He has coached a lot of the guys from different (provincial) unions, so he knows us and has had to pull us together. We had to buy into his plan, and he has made it clear that the Springboks is the most important thing.

"In the past, we tried to build ourselves by our social media and all those kinds of things. He just brought us back down to earth and told us, 'You have to play well first, and everything else will come'.

"It's awesome to see it come together. It will mean a lot for us to go all the way as a team."

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