Kolisi: We know the people of South Africa will be behind us

By Sports Desk July 23, 2021

Siya Kolisi hopes South Africa's rugby team can lift the spirits of a nation as they prepare to take on the British and Irish Lions in front of an empty Cape Town Stadium.

The first Test of the three-match series takes place on Saturday, though no fans will be at the venue to watch the action unfold due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

South Africa has seen an upsurge in COVID-19 cases during the past month - there were over 14,000 positive tests in the country on Thursday - while there have been 69,075 deaths connected to the virus amid the ongoing global health crisis.

Springboks captain Kolisi tested positive himself earlier this month, though the World Cup winner has been cleared to lead a team that understands the importance of the upcoming games.

"Obviously, we are South Africans before we are Springbok rugby players. What affects our people affects us as players," Kolisi told the media on the eve of the opening Test.

"We are going to do everything we can to focus on the job we have to do. Like coach Rassie Erasmus said at the World Cup, what we do is in a place of privilege.

"We're doing what we love every single day, and that we're able to put a smile on someone's face, or we're able to, for a moment in time, let everybody else forget and put their problems aside and focus on what we're doing. When we win, they feel like they win too.

"No matter how difficult the situation is, we are always able to pull together. We've got families, we've got friends, we've got people out there suffering during this time. We want to make sure that, while we still have the privilege to be able to do what we love, we give it our ultimate best.

"We know the people will be behind us, no matter what it is they are going through. We want to make sure we give it everything and give it our best on Saturday.

"If we are able to put a smile on someone's face, that will obviously make us happy and drive us even more to make sure that we don't give up and give our ultimate everything."

Cape Town will now stage all the Tests, a change from the original schedule as Johannesburg was due to host the second and third matches.

The Springboks also saw their series with Georgia cut short due to COVID-19 cases in both camps, meaning Kolisi has not played since July 2. However, despite the lengthy absence from the field, the 30-year-old remained heavily involved in the build-up.

"Honestly, I didn't have a lot of symptoms. I was fortunate with that. I didn't have anything at all," he said. "I think I was fine by the second day. That didn't play a big role with me. It was all the mental things, isolating in the room.

"What helped me the most is that I was still part of the meetings, talking to the team, viewing videos, adding input to the guys who were playing before, talking to Marco (van Staden, who started at flanker in Kolisi's absence for South Africa A against the Lions), making sure that Marco knows every single role before Saturday, because that's what we're about.

"Just because you're not playing with us, it doesn't mean you're off. The next thing for you to do is to make sure the next guy around you knows his job and he's prepared as much as he can. At the end of the day, the most important thing in our group is the Springboks.

"We want to make sure, whether you're playing or not, that you're actually adding value some way or another. In that regard, I was fine because I had a lot of things to keep me positive and keep me active during the time."

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    :: George North is a Land Rover ambassador. Visit landrover.co.uk

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