SA Rugby Awards: Kolisi wins big

SIya Kolisi was at the helm as the Springboks defeated the British and Irish Lions and was the only Bok to play in all 13 tests last year.

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi celebrates after victory in the third rugby union Test match between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions at the Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town on 7 August 2021. Picture: Rodger Bosch/AFP

CAPE TOWN - After being snubbed for the 2021 World Rugby Awards, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi did get the recognition he deserves as he walked away with the coveted ‘SA Rugby Player of the Year’ Award this year.

Kolisi was at the helm as the Springboks defeated the British and Irish Lions and was the only Bok to play in all 13 tests last year.

The Springbok captain was in a tough group for the sought-after award, he edged out national teammates Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Eben Etzebeth, and Makazole Mapimpi – who all had a strong season as well.

The Bok team had an incredibly challenging season due to COVID and spent five months of the year in bio-bubbles, away from their families and away from normal life just to play in the Rugby Championship and face British and Irish Lions.

Due to this, and the results they managed to get during these extra-ordinary times, the Springboks were also named ‘Team of the Year’.

At the media conference after the awards were announced, Kolisi - humble in his response, said that it was a team effort: “I’m really honoured and grateful; without my teammates I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this.

“All the nominees, everybody has been amazing. It could’ve gone to anyone. We're all close friends and we all celebrate each other. The most important thing is the team to us. We don’t dwell on it; this is my performance from last year. I have to perform again this year in the competition (URC) and get back in the team again.”

In terms of his Springbok team, he said: “We always find solutions somehow and I thought that was the biggest positive out of us as a group, and also being able to perform. If we lost a game, in Australia we lost a game and we found a way to get up and win the last game against New Zealand.”

In the other awards, the much talked about Aphelele Fassi bagged the SA Rugby ‘Young Player of the Year’ award. He made his Springbok debut last year and played in two test matches where he managed to score some beautiful tries and is definitely a player to watch.

Kolisi was also very happy for his current Sharks teammate: “He’s worked hard, and you know I walked the same journey as him. He is in the Springbok, he's played a couple of times but he's learning a lot.

“I was there too, I had to wait my turn and when I got it, I took the opportunity with both hands, and he is learning so much from Willie [Le Roux]. He has so many guys he can learn from, Frans Steyn, you know he is always there, and he is working as hard as he can.”

He continued: “The nice thing about the team is we share the knowledge, because the team is the most important.”

In a new category, Springbok Women’s ‘Player of the Year’, Lusanda Dumke walked away with that one as well as the award for Provincial Women’s ‘Player of the Year’ as she led Border Ladies to the Women’s Premier Division title.

Another person that has made headlines in the rugby world over the last couple of years, is referee Aimee Barrett-Theron who won the ‘Referee of the Year ‘Award for the second time after she also walked away with the accolade in 2019.

Kolisi, who has been a vocal and active supporter of the women’s game, said he was incredibly happy to see Dumke and Barrett-Theron getting recognition.

“Honestly, it’s the highlight! I love supporting the ladies, I love the energy. Our ladies work really hard, and we want to make a point of making sure we support them and celebrate them. I’m proud of everything Aimee has done and Lusanda has been amazing as well.”

He said it was so good to see them being rewarded for their respective performances and them, as the Springbok men’s side, wanted to be there for the ladies: “They are going to the World Cup soon and they went overseas, playing against teams that have been playing for a long time with a lot of backing behind them. They go and make us proud in all that they do.

“It will be amazing to get us to play the same days as the ladies sometimes at a game where we can have double headers. I think the more support the ladies get, the bigger the game of rugby will get.”

Staying at provincial level, the 'Carling Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year' went to in-form Bulls loose forward Elrigh Louw, while the 'Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year' was won by Dylan Maart of the Boland Kavaliers, whose eight tries were the most in the competition last year.

For the second year in a row, former Springbok and current Bulls coach Jake White was named ‘Coach of the Year’ beating out the likes of Jacques Nienaber (Springboks head coach) and Neil Powell (Springbok Sevens head coach). White has led the Bulls to back-to-back Currie Cup title wins as well as the Pro14 Rainbow Cup final.

To the Sevens now, where Ronald Brown was named ‘Player of the Year’ in his debut season for the Blitzboks and then ‘Junior Springbok of the Year’ went to Henco van Wyk after a fine season at U20 International level.

And finally, another new category this year is the ‘Castle Lager Test Try of the Year’ and in (almost) no surprise, it went to Springbok winger, Cheslin Kolbe who scored a memorable try in the third test against the British and Irish Lions. In classic Kolbe style, he ripped open the Lions defense in which seemed like no space on the outside to score the try that gave South Africa the lead in the second half.

At the media briefing, current director of rugby Rassie Erasmus asked his captain what he would tell younger (or even older) players about handling criticism and people ‘writing you off’, this is what Kolisi said:

“The biggest critic has to be yourself and the people that you listen to, like the coaching staff and your teammates and you look at yourself because you know yourself as a player, the processes that you have during the week – how hard you worked during the preparation, did you watch enough of the videos, did you work hard on the field – that’s how you should judge yourself as a player. That’s the most important thing, before you start reading that [comment] you look at what you’ve done before you go on Saturday.

"You got to take it on the chin, look at yourself and see what you’ve done during the week to prepare or the year, what could you have done better? You just got to work hard and focus on you. Believe in yourself more than anything else.”

Kolisi will run out for the Sharks on Saturday in their United Rugby Championship clash with the Stormers in Durban.