Siya Kolisi has learnt to shoulder a lot of responsibility over the past few years and although he understands his new role on the rugby field will bring its own unique challenges, he sees it as another opportunity to grow in all facets of his life.
The 25-year-old loose forward took in his younger brother and sister a couple of years ago, while his future wife Rachel Smith was pregnant with their first son.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck took him aside at his wedding last year to give him a stern lecture about the importance of his role in a full home.
“After my wedding, where coach heard me speak, he told me I had natural leadership qualities but I needed to grow up. He said I needed to lead on and off the field,” Kolisi said this week.
“I have to set an example for my brother and my sister, and my son, and when coach tied it up with all that, I took it in. Since that day, I haven’t looked back.”
So Kolisi was hardly surprised when Fleck announced on Wednesday he would captain the Stormers in the 2017 Super Rugby season, with his old friend and fellow Springbok Eben Etzebeth taking the vice-captain’s role.
Although his new position may seem like the next logical step forward for the talented flanker, from a holistic perspective, Kolisi has come a long way since kicking up dust as a child in Zwide township in the Eastern Cape.
Although he had no real hopes of glory at that early point in his life, after being spotted by talent scouts at the age of 12, he was awarded a bursary to attend Grey High School in Port Elizabeth – and the move opened new doors for the wide-eyed young man.
“When I was nine years old and still in the township, I never would have thought I would get this far,” Kolisi said.
“Only when I got to Grey I started thinking about making it in rugby.”
Although he has experienced his fair share of injuries along the way, Kolisi’s career has progressed rapidly ever since.
He made his international debut in 2010, at the age of 18, when he represented South Africa at the Junior World Championships in Argentina, helping the Baby Boks to the bronze medal.
The following year, he made his first appearance for Western Province in the Vodacom Cup after making a move from Eastern Province, where he played for the provincial age group sides. Later that season, he turned out for the first time in the Currie Cup competition.
In 2012, he played his first Super Rugby match for the Stormers and he made an immediate impact in his senior Springbok debut, against Scotland in Nelspruit in 2013, when he was named the man-of-the-match in his maiden appearance in the green and gold.
Having earned 76 caps for the Stormers by the end of last year, Kolisi was already established as one of the senior players in the squad.
And despite his own admittance to his reserved nature, Fleck saw something special in him, believing he was the right man to lead the Western Cape side this season after they were eliminated in the Super Rugby quarterfinals last year.
“We have developed a number of strong leaders in this group, so Siya will certainly not be shouldering the responsibility on his own. But we felt it important to appoint someone who the team can rally around,” Fleck said.
“Although still quite young, Siya is already an experienced player who has matured both on and off the field. He is one of the most popular and respected players in our squad.”
The skipper’s post may be a new role for him – Kolisi has not captained a top-flight team in his senior career – but he insisted he was ready to accept the challenge.
Carrying his responsibilities from home on to the field, Kolisi felt he was prepared to be a role model to a large group of burly men in a full-contact professional sport as he geared up for his first chance to prove himself tonight, when the Stormers open their Super Rugby campaign against the Bulls at Newlands.
“I thought about it and I got chosen because of the person I am. I can’t change that,” he said.
“I want to produce good rugby, first and foremost, because that’s the only way I know how to lead on the field.
“And I want to be a role model off the field for my team-mates as well.”