JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - New South Africa captain Siya Kolisi was a bag of nerves when the Springboks were blown away by a rampant England in the early stages of Saturday’s first test at Ellis Park but praised his charges for rallying to win a pulsating encounter.
“I was very nervous as we didn’t expect to have such a tough time early in the game, but we have guys who had been in situations like that before,” the first black player to captain the Springboks said after his side had prevailed 42-39.
“Credit to the new caps, because they didn’t panic and showed they just wanted to play, so we decided to take control of the game and it worked,” the loose forward added after his side overcame a 21-point deficit to triumph.
“Everything came together for us, the nerves were gone, we managed to get into sync and do those things that we know we can do well. We obviously would have wanted to start better, but the character the guys showed was amazing.”
The win put a seal on a historic day as the symbolism of Kolisi’s appointment was widely hailed, capped by a standing ovation from the Ellis Park crowd at the end of the game as the debut skipper and his team mates completed a lap of honour.
“There was a lot of pressure in the week with the hype around the making of history, it must have been very emotional for Siya,” said former Springbok flyhalf Joel Stransky, who kicked the 1995 World Cup winning points at the same stadium.
“It was goosebumps stuff for all of us. Boy, did he handle that emotion and pressure well and he’s shown himself to be a real leader.”
Coach Rassie Erasmus admitted he had made life a little more difficult for the new captain by getting the initial tactics wrong in just his second game in charge of the national side.
He expected England to kick more but was caught out when the visitors attacked the wide channels with relative ease to open a 24-3 lead in the first quarter of the match.
“We thought that with (scrumhalf) Ben Youngs and three flyhalves in their starting lineup, they were going to kick all day. Tactically, I got it wrong and that surprised the team,” Erasmus said.
“Credit to guys like Siya, who realised that and made the change in tactics. We started getting width on our defence and started attacking a lot more.
“I’m really proud. There were a lot of mistakes, but character is something you can build on. If we had lost, it would’ve created doubt, but it will be a bit easier now to get consistency in selection.
“We will have to try a few things next week and we will have to make big calls going forward, which probably means we’ll lose some matches, but we have to get players exposed to test rugby and see if they have what it takes to make it at this level.”
The second contest in the three-match series is in Bloemfontein next Saturday, followed by the final test at Newlands in Cape Town on June 23.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by John O'Brien