Rugby World Cup 2023: Siya Kolisi is South Africa's 'symbol of hope' - Mtawarira

Siya Kolisi and the 2019 Rugby World Cup winning team
Siya Kolisi (centre) lifted the Webb Ellis Cup as South Africa's first black captain at the 2019 tournament in Japan

Rugby World Cup winner and former Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira has called captain Siya Kolisi a "symbol of hope" ahead of the team's title defence.

Mtawarira, nicknamed The Beast, called time on his international career after helping South Africa win the World Cup alongside Kolisi in Japan in 2019 - and he believes his nation is deservedly among the favourites again at this year's finals in France.

"It's a big deal for the Springboks to have Siya playing," Mtawarira, 38, told Newsday on BBC World Service.

"It's looking really positive and I'm excited to see him back on the park."

Talismanic Kolisi, who grew up in poverty and was South Africa's first black captain, returned from a long-term knee injury as his side thrashed Wales 52-16 in Cardiff on 19 August.

"Siya transcends the game of rugby - he's a symbol of hope for so many. He came from nothing and became somebody iconic in the public eye," he added.

"He means so much for South Africa and it will just give the team that extra amount of belief and energy to have him around."

Ahead of the tournament, South Africa find themselves behind only Ireland in the world rankings, but hosts France are being tipped by some to win the World Cup for the first time, having been runners-up on three previous occasions.

Jacques Nienaber's side will be full of confidence, having handed New Zealand a record 35-7 defeat at Twickenham six days after their impressive win over Wales.

"We always thrive when we're underdogs," said Mtawarira.

"There have been so many good teams - Ireland, France - dominating over the last couple of years. It's an open race and it suits us well because it takes the pressure off the team."

South Africa have "done their homework" on group opponents Scotland, Romania, Ireland and Tonga, Mtawarira added.

"It's not going to be easy," he warned. "There's definitely a general consensus that they believe they can do it.

"We're potentially going to play a final before the final in the quarters, probably facing New Zealand or France.

"We're not second to anyone. We've got so much depth in pretty much all the positions, probably besides centre.

"We've got a front row that can destroy any team on any day."

Siya Kolisi (left) and Tendai Mtawarira (right) playing for South Africa in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final
Kolisi (left) won his 50th test cap in a side featuring Mtawarira (right) in the 2019 World Cup final, when South Africa beat England 32-12

When Mtawarira called time on his career, he felt it was right to go out on top.

"I remember when my name got called out for that World Cup squad in 2019," he said. "It was a really big moment for me because I knew, deep down, that I was kind of wrapping up my career and it was possibly my last World Cup.

"We had a sense of belief that we could do it despite the challenges we had faced. We were not number one in the world. We had a torrid 2016 and 2017."

Rassie Erasmus - South Africa's Messiah

Siya Kolisi and Rassie Erasmus as part of South Africa's Rugby World Cup-winning squad in 2019
Kolisi (left) and former coach Rassie Erasmus on the Rugby World Cup Trophy tour

The team was bolstered by the arrival of Johan 'Rassie' Erasmus - a Tri-Nations winner and member of the squad who came third at the 1999 World Cup - as head coach in 2018, remaining in place until the end of their successful World Cup campaign in 2019.

"We got a Messiah in Rassie Erasmus," Mtawarira said.

"When he came on board, he got us to believe again. We were struggling with results and some of the off-field stuff, but everybody pretty much understood that South African rugby was back. So the belief was there."

South Africa start their campaign against Scotland on Sunday 10 September in Marseille.

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