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Eric Songwiqi is the man who backed Siya Kolisi since day 1

Eric Songwiqi introduced Siya Kolisi to rugby at a very critical age of 11, developing his rugby skills and also instilling a high level of discipline which has moulded Kolisi into the man and leader that he is.

FILE: Captain Siya Kolisi leads the Springboks out. Picture: AFP

PORT ELIZABETH - There is an old English adage that says "behind every successful man is a strong woman" and this is true for Springbok Siya Kolisi, who is happily married to his wife Rachel. But long before Rachel was even a thought in Kolisi’s mind, there was someone else backing the Bok captain since early childhood.

Kolisi has never been shy to pay tribute to the man who introduced him to rugby and played a vital role in him attending one of the Eastern Cape’s strongest rugby playing schools, Grey High School in Port Elizabeth. That man is his former primary school teacher at Msengeni Primary School in the Zwide location, Eric Songwiqi.

Songwiqi introduced Kolisi to rugby at a very critical age of 11 years old, developing his rugby skills and also instilling a high level of discipline which has moulded Kolisi into the man and leader that he is now.

A jubilant Songwiqi details his journey with Kolisi in three critical stages.

“When a parent entrusts you with their child as a teacher, you automatically assume the responsibility of being both a teacher and a parent. When you have that responsibility, you have to develop the child intellectually so that they turn out to be better individuals in their adulthoods and that was my first engagement with Siya.”

Kolisi’s social media is laden with religious components, which is something that Songwiqi says he was also responsible for.

“The other thing that I tried to play a vital role in Siya’s development was the religious aspect since he was a child. There was a prayer service for Siya here at the Apostolic Church in Zwide before the New Zealand game to pray for him and the team.”

Before and after every captain's press conference, both as Stormers and Springbok captain, Kolisi would shake and greet every journalist's hand before answering grilling questions about the Springboks, his own personal game and transformation issues that are at times beyond his control. This social aspect is the last point that Songwiqi instilled in Kolisi as a young boy.

“From a young age, Siya was very social and that is why he is able to socialise with everyone that he meets so easily. It’s an important part of a child’s development,” adds Songwiqi.

Songwiqi says he never doubted Kolisi’s leadership skills and he showed them at a young age, as he would round up all the other boys before training at the Dan Qeqe Stadium in Zwide and would make sure that they did the drills with high intensity.

“Siya was always a leader and I never struggled to maintain the attention of the boys because Siya was the one who would help me make sure that everyone was on time for training and concentrated for the duration of the session. I wasn’t surprised when Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus selected him as his captain because I knew he would lead the team very well.”

Though Kolisi is Songwiqi’s most famous product, he has also produced another Springbok captain in former South African Women’s rugby captain, Nomsebenzi Tsotsobe. During his 14-year-long tenure as coach of the Eastern Province Women’s side, they won four A-Section interprovincial titles and a plethora of other provincial players for Eastern Province.

Songwiqi continues to develop young rugby players in the townships of Port Elizabeth, having resigned as a teacher, through his grassroots development program called the Eric Songwiqi Sports Development which facilitates coaching sessions and tournaments for schools.

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