From Zwide to Yokohama: How Siya Kolisi became the first black man to captain The Boks

Updated: May 19, 2020

by Daniel Roodt

From Zwide to lifting the Rugby World Cup in Yokohama, Siyamthanda “Siya” Kolisi’s rise to the top has been meteoric.

[ABOVE: Grey College: Siya Kolisi fends off a challenge while playing for Grey College in Port Elizabeth.]

Siya was born on 16 June 1991 in Zwide Township in Port Elizabeth (PE), Eastern Cape. He was raised by his grandmother, in a two-bedroom house already occupied by five other people. His bed was a few pillows by the door and the rugby field was more dirt than grass.

Siya’s upbringing was not an easy one and he was faced with societal issues like substance abuse; a trap that many around him fell into.

He began his rugby career at a young age, joining the local African Bombers Rugby Club at just seven years old.

Kolisi’s decision to join the Bombers when he was at Emsengeni Primary School proved to be a decision that set him on an astonishing career trajectory.

His impressive displays for the Bombers at just 12 years old in a rugby tournament in Mossel Bay turned out to be the tipping point. While at the tournament, he impressed the coaches from Grey Junior School.

His dynamic displays at the Mossel Bay tournament led to Grey offering him a full scholarship, and Kolisi never looked back.

He initially struggled upon his arrival at Grey, due to him not being able to speak English. However, thanks to one of his classmates, Nicholas Holton, Kolisi soon learned how to speak English and was on his way to stardom.

Holton and Kolisi have remained firm friends ever since, with Kolisi reciprocating the favour and teaching Holton how to speak isiXhosa. Holton would later go on to be Kolisi’s best man at his wedding, and he even named his son after Holton.

Kolisi’s move to Grey did not stop him from continuing to play for the Bombers alongside his commitments at school.

He made his first-team debut for the Bombers at only 15 and was met with stiff opposition in the form of Springbok flank, Solly Tyibilika. While this was a baptism by fire, it meant that his high school matches paled in comparison.

Kolisi continued to impress on the rugby field, which led to him being selected captain of the Grey u16A side. Later that year, he was chosen for the Eastern Province (EP) Grant Khomo team, which would go on to win the tournament.

In his final two years, Kolisi would become a mainstay in the Grey First XV, the Eastern Province Craven Week team, and the South African Schools rugby team.

While many teams around the nation pursued Kolisi, he decided on Western Province, where he would join their academy in Stellenbosch.

Although he was an excellent player upon his arrival at the Academy, he had a few flaws that needed to be ironed out.

The main issue was that Kolisi was not a fan of tackling players. He said, “Township guys don’t like tackling…It’s not that we can’t, but we just don’t like it. I used to hate tackling at school. I came to Western Province, and I had to tackle every single day. And I started loving it, especially when I hit someone hard.”

Fortunately for Kolisi, this did not get in the way of his rise through the Western Province teams.

In the year of his arrival (2010), he played for the Western Province team that won the u19 ABSA Currie Cup. The following year, he made his debut for the Western Province Vodacom Cup team as well as for the Junior Springboks (The Baby Boks).

Kolisi was meant to make his first senior appearance for the Stormers that same season. Unfortunately, he was mugged at a friend's birthday party only days before the game, which prevented him from making his debut for the senior side.

This setback did not deter Kolisi, as he would go on to make his debut for the Stormers in 2012 after replacing the legendary Schalk Burger.

From there, Kolisi did not look back. He would help the senior Western Province side win their first Currie Cup in 11 years as well as play a pivotal role in their Super Rugby campaign.

His stellar performances did not go unnoticed by the national selectors, as he was called up for the Springboks tour of Europe later that season.

While Kolisi did not get onto the pitch during that tour, he made his debut in 2013 for the Springboks against Scotland in Mpumalanga.

Kolisi became a mainstay for the Boks in the following years and would make his Rugby World Cup debut at the 2015 tournament. Thankfully, the nation's poor performances at the competition did not tarnish the flanker’s reputation, as in 2017 he was appointed vice-captain by Allister Coetzee.

Kolisi was made captain by coach Rassie Erasmus in 2018, and in doing so, he became the first black man to captain the Springboks.

Kolisi’s rise did not stop there, as he became the first black man to captain South Africa to a World Cup and in doing so winning the nation’s third Rugby World Cup.

[ABOVE: World Cup: Siya Kolisi and the Springboks celebrate winning their third Web Ellis Trophy after defeating England in Yokohama in 2020.]

South Africa’s dominant display against England in the final of the Rugby World Cup in 2019 was undoubtedly the pinnacle of Kolisi’s brilliant career.

Kolisi is no longer just contributing on the pitch, as he and his wife Rachel set up the Siya Kolisi foundation in 2020. The foundation aims to support underprivileged citizens with programs, including food parcel deliveries. More recently, the foundation has been providing masks for vulnerable people during this coronavirus crisis.

Kolisi’s half-siblings have also been living with the couple since 2014 after spending five years in foster care and orphanages in Port Elizabeth after the death of their mother.

Kolisi has become an icon on and off the pitch and hopefully, for the nation, his dominant displays will continue for years to come.


South African History Online

Derek Alberts via Good Things Guy

Tom Fordyce via


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