CAPE TOWN, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Stormers loose forward Siya Kolisi admits he has had some growing up to do since bursting onto the Super Rugby scene four years ago but feels he is now ready to play a key leadership role in guiding them to glory this season.
The flanker made an instant impact when he came into the Stormers side in 2012, but when his career did not take off the way many had predicted it took a few home truths from coach Robbie Fleck to spark a change in attitude and focus.
Advice heeded, the 25-year-old says it is time for him to live up to the expectations that come with being one of the senior players in the team.
“I had a conversation with the coach last year and he told me I had to grow up, basically,” Kolisi told Reuters in an interview. “Since that day I haven’t looked back.
“It’s not been easy, it’s been tough. I won’t lie, I had to mature a lot.
“Obviously now I’m a leader at home as well, I have got three kids that I must be a role model for. I had to change a lot of my ways.”
The Stormers have lost a number of key players in recent seasons but Kolisi, who has collected 16 Springboks caps since making his debut in 2013, says their presence is still felt.
“I have learnt a lot from those guys that have gone, Schalk (Burger), Duane (Vermeulen) and Jean (De Villiers),” he added.
The Cape Town-based side have a challenging fixture list that will see them take on New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams this season.
Last year, they reached the quarter-finals having played only South African and Australian teams, as well as the debutant Sunwolves from Japan.
They were given a sharp reminder of just how far ahead New Zealand sides are in the competition with a 60-21 thrashing in the playoffs by Waikato Chiefs at Newlands.
Kolisi said the competition format left the Stormers under-prepared for that game and added that although they face a more challenging path to the play-offs in 2017, meeting New Zealand teams at an earlier stage would benefit them in the long run.
“It means we won’t get to a playoff like we did and get shocked. When you play them early in the competition it’s perfect,” he said.
“But you have got to be ready mentally.
“We are not afraid because we have to play them. If that is what it takes to win Super Rugby, so be it.”
Kolisi is convinced that the Stormers, who start their season with a bruising North-South derby at home to the Bulls on Saturday, are genuine title contenders this season.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t have worked this hard in pre-season if I didn’t think we have the squad to do it,” he added.
“And I know my team mates believe it too.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford