Springbok captains and World Cup tournaments don’t exactly go hand-inhand if past tournaments are anything of a yardstick. Current captain Siya Kolisi is yet another example.
With the World Cup in Japan less than three months away, the regular skipper is set to miss at least two and possibly even three of the Boks’ five Tests before their campaign starts on September 21 against arch-rivals New Zealand.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus said Kolisi had a 50% chance of missing the entire tournament if his knee is risked in the opening two Rugby Championship Tests against Australia at home and New Zealand away.
One can trace back across all six tournaments since the Boks made their World Cup debut in 1995, and there was doubt at some time or the other as to who the captain would actually be.
After 1995, of course, Francois Pienaar would forever carry a nostalgic presence because he was the skipper of the Boks’ first triumph, but he was not always seen as the first choice.
Just a year before the World Cup, when the Boks toured New Zealand and coach Ian McIntosh was dropped for Kitch Christie, both Ruben Kruger and Tiaan Strauss were considered as better openside flankers and Strauss didn’t make the squad as he was seen as a threat to Pienaar.
Fast forward to 1999 and then coach Nick Mallett made the big call to drop captain Gary Teichmann just a few months before the tournament to allow “golden boy” Bob Skinstadt a spot at No 8 and give the captaincy to the late Joost van der Westhuizen, a decision Mallett admitted in later years was a big mistake after Skinstadt suffered a knee injury on the eve of the tournament.
Mallett was succeeded as Bok coach first by Harry Viljoen and then Rudolf Straeuli in the leadup to the 2003 tournament, and along the way popular captain Andre Vos was sacked because of a speaking problem, before Skinstadt was replaced as skipper by Corne Krige.
In both the 2007 and 2011 tournaments there were doubts whether John Smit would make the side on merit ahead of Bismarck du Plessis, but Smit was such a great captain that both Jake White and Peter de Villiers kept faith in him.
In 2015, Jean de Villiers was designated to be the captain and he was such a popular figure that he was nurtured through injury spells, before Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez took over towards the end of the tournament.
So, is history to be repeated with Kolisi?