Like many players in the Springboks set-up over the past 12 months‚ Siya Kolisi was not guaranteed a place in the squad‚ let alone in the starting XV at any stage.
But over the past 10 days, that has changed and the explosive flank has nailed down his position in the Bok back row for the foreseeable future.
Kolisi’s performance in the second Test against France at Kings Park was the best of his career at any level‚ and pleasingly also a continuation of a series of consistently high quality outings in 2017.
He was immense against France‚ scoring a try‚ creating another‚ making several crucial turnovers and putting in a huge shift on defence as the Boks won 37-15 to clinch the three-Test series with a match to spare.
Schalk Burger has always been an inspiration to the current Stormers captain and over the past two weeks, Kolisi has played with the same intensity of Burger at his best. There can be no higher compliment.
Of course‚ no individual performance happens in isolation and the work of replacement flank Jean-Luc du Preez and lock Franco Mostert dove-tailed perfectly with Kolisi’s high work rate.
"That’s the best I’ve ever felt after a Springbok match‚" was Kolisi’s measured assessment of his performance.
"We work hard all week to improve our skills. After and before training, individual players are doing their own skills drills because that’s an area we‚ as SA rugby players‚ have been lacking. By putting in personal effort on skills‚ when it comes to collective team training, we can focus on other important things," he said.
Kolisi tops the stats in some important categories during this series — he is first in turnovers won and dominant tackles with five and seven, respectively. He has also made 16 ball carries and carved off 232m‚ an impressive 14.5m per carry. Considering he takes the ball up in heavily defended channels‚ that is a sensational return.
Like Burger‚ Kolisi is not a classic openside flank and he has made it clear in the past that he does not want to be a "fetcher" either.
The Boks‚ like the Stormers‚ are operating on the basis of collaborative effort at the breakdown rather than tasking a lone individual as a primary ball stealer. So far, the plan is working, with a wide range of players from tighthead prop Frans Malherbe to centre Jan Serfontein‚ making steals.
The Boks made four breakdown turnovers in the match‚ but Kolisi said they were not specifically targeting the French breakdown. Their success in that area was due to improved decision-making by individuals.
"The coaches give us a lot of freedom and responsibility to make a decision whether to go for the ball or not‚" Kolisi said.
"Our primary focus wasn’t on the breakdown but rather to have more guys make double tackles to neutralise their big‚ heavy pack."