On a dreary, grey Welsh summer’s day, Siya Kolisi’s beaming smile lit up the room at South Africa’s team hotel in Cardiff Bay on Friday.
The iconic Springbok captain is back. It’s no wonder he is happy. On Saturday, Kolisi will play his first game since completing a remarkable recovery from knee surgery.
After greeting MailSport with a fist bump while whistling a tune in Afrikaans, Kolisi opened up on how he’s gone from a surgeon’s table just over three months ago to being back fit for the World Cup. Kolisi’s devout Christian faith played a big part. So too did his remarkable commitment and dedication.
Frankly, no-one gave Kolisi much of a chance of being able to lead the Springboks in their tournament defence when he ruptured his anterior cruciate knee ligament against Munster on April 22.
But on Saturday – 119 days after his injury – he will be back leading his country with Wales the opposition in a World Cup warm-up clash at Principality Stadium.
Springboks captain Siya Kolisi is ready to make his first appearance this year against Wales
‘It’s hard to sum it up in words. I can’t explain. I’m just grateful I’m here,’ Kolisi said.
‘It’s been a team effort. The people around me and my wife have been big. I had a lot of doubt when the injury happened and she just prayed. She believed I could get here.
‘From the day he saw my scans, the specialist – Dr Willem van der Merwe – said: “This is possible. I’m going to fix you and the rest is up to you”.
‘To have a medical team that said it was possible honestly changed my belief. I had doubts. I won’t lie. I had to believe in powers far stronger than me.
‘I can’t justify how I was recovering and healing so quickly. The medical team did say it was not normal. They had not seen the things I was able to do so quickly.
‘I have peace in my heart I gave myself the best chance to be here. I’m not walking in fear. I’m walking in confidence because I feel good.’
When Kolisi fell lame in April, his wife Rachel immediately asked her Instagram followers to pray for her husband. Christianity is a big part of the couple’s lives.
‘For me, it’s been the No 1,’ said Kolisi, when asked about the role of faith in his recovery.
Kolisi with his wife Rachel and two children after undergoing surgery on his ruptured ACL
KOLISI’S GUIDE TO SOUTH AFRICA
Who is the funniest in the Springbok squad?
There are a lot of funny guys! Trevor Nyakane is funny. I love his dance moves!
Who is the longest in the shower?
In the bathroom I can tell you it’s Cheslin Kolbe! Sometimes he’s my room-mate and sometimes I’m with Eben Etzebeth, but he (Kolbe) is in there for the longest.
Who is your favourite room-mate?
That’s hard! I can’t answer that! I’m going to get in trouble! I’ve got Cheslin and Eben and together they make one good room-mate.
‘It’s where I drew my confidence from each day. When I stepped into the unknown or didn’t know something, my foundation was His (God’s) calling card.
‘I prayed or read the (bible) verses people sent me. That was my comfort zone. I felt that no matter what happened in the process, I was OK. It (religion) is huge for me, not just through injury but every day. It’s about me not taking the glory. In South Africa, you can really be yourself.
‘Other players have told me that in their countries, they can’t speak about religion. I’m so happy I can freely show who and what I believe in.’
It is fitting Kolisi is a big believer in faith because he has just pulled off something of a medical miracle.
A torn ACL normally requires a recovery period of around a year. Kolisi has made it back in a third of that time.
The exact nature of the operation he underwent remains a closely guarded secret.
But Mail Sport understands Kolisi took inspiration from his Springbok team-mate Pieter-Steph du Toit, who recovered from a similar serious injury to play at the 2019 tournament.
Du Toit was then named World Rugby player of the year after having a tendon transplanted from his father’s hamstring into his knee. Whatever procedure Kolisi underwent, there can be no doubt he took a risk when going under the knife in a bid to be fit for France. The gamble has paid off.
Kolisi has been able to remain positive with help of his family, medical team and faith
After captaining South Africa to World Cup glory in Japan in 2019, Kolisi exploded into one of the very few megastars rugby possesses today. His journey from a childhood in poverty – where he grew up on jam sandwiches – to Springbok and global icon resonated around the world. He was the first black man to captain South Africa.
Kolisi means so much to his country and the feeling is mutual.
‘This is why we play, to put on this badge,’ said Kolisi, thumping the Springbok on his chest.
‘I can’t explain the drive it gives you. It’s different when you put on the Springbok jersey. The whole country is behind you. They depend on you doing what you love to do.
‘Everyone’s dreams and hopes are on your shoulders. That’s amazing. Whether it was a World Cup or not, I’d still have worked as hard to be back and put on the Springbok jersey again.’
Kolisi travelled between Cape Town and Durban for his knee recovery. There have been countless early mornings and long days. They have all been worth it.
Kolisi leads an imposing South African side against Wales.
Flanker expressed his gratitude to medical team that helped him make a miraculous recovery
He said: ‘Wales are tough. They don’t go away. They play similar to us and a lot of their players have similar stories. They are hard people who will go to the gutters.
‘We get along with them off the field. We have so much respect for them. We don’t speak about every nation like this, but we really do respect Wales a lot.
‘I still feel exactly the same as when I started. I’m still hungry. I still have the same values. I work hard and I’m a team man. It’s about rugby and family for me.
‘I’m still young and can go on for a couple more years.’