Kolisi became more than a man the moment he hoisted rugby’s greatest prize, four years ago in Japan.
Long since a symbol of hope and success for anyone trying to thrive in South Africa’s townships, on November 2, 2019, Kolisi shouldered an even greater responsibility.
The Zwide-born back-row forward found a way out of poverty, hunger and danger — through the hardest of graft, enduring love and humility — to that 32-12 World Cup Final triumph over England.
The 32-year-old has never let that burden weigh him down. Among all the accolades, the charity foundation, raising his own family and continuing his storied rugby career, perhaps that alone underscores his greatness.
Those without birthright have no use for privilege. Kolisi is already using his status for good, for change. And a country always conflicted on its future path will doubtless cry out for him to move into politics.
Twickenham erupted in an unmatched roar when Kolisi’s face was beamed onto the big screens after South Africa thrashed New Zealand 35-7 in west London last month.
This modern icon long ago transcended rugby. But then he outdid even his great self — by recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in four months.
This is preposterous, and yet, has actually happened. If Kolisi wants any respite from his miracle-man status, the Sharks flanker is going about it all wrong.
A standard hamstring-graft ACL rehabilitation is nine months, while some can stretch to a year. Surgeons have now developed a polyethylene terephthalate ligament replacement technique that can accelerate a playing return to six months. That is the same material used to make Coca-Cola bottles. Kolisi’s recovery is even better than the real thing.
South Africa have created avenues for Springboks to come from all cultures and backgrounds. Canan Moodie will be this World Cup’s newest superstar. The 20-year-old grew up two doors down from a drug den, and had to walk 10 miles just to reach training. Moodie credits older brother and long-jumper Keanu for keeping him away from gang violence and crime.
These Boks are the very best of themselves. The triangle tip of success of course hides the pyramid of pain, anguish and injustice below — but at least the structure has a point. And Jacques Nienaber’s men look ready to skewer allcomers with that sharp end all over again.
Hosts France boast the mot juste to dismiss that Bokke argument, though, courtesy of blending the grit with the gallivant. The ferocity of Julien Marchand meets the flair of Thomas Ramos, and all with little general Antoine Dupont plotting world domination from scrum-half.
Wiganer Shaun Edwards has traded England’s north for a coastal French idyll, setting up his family home in Perpignan’s Canet-sur-Plage. The tranquillity of a 150-metre walk to the beach in his leisure time is about to be blasted out of those crystal-clear blue waters. Defence guru Edwards has brought shape, intensity, bite and ferocity to France’s famed finesse.
World No1 side Ireland have a skipper in Johnny Sexton who rages against the dying of the light, but who can still pilot a Test team better than most. Andy Farrell has added a relaxed confidence to the Joe Schmidt framework, so that Ireland can point their accuracy onto the head of a pin while also carving open teams with cuteness and creativity.
Farrell’s environment changes have allowed the likes of free-spirited wing Mack Hansen to thrive. There is no way Schmidt would have seen merit in Hansen getting a tattoo of the head coach on his thigh, let alone positively encouraging the ink.
Escape the pool of death with South Africa and Scotland for company, and Ireland boast their best chance of not just breaking their semi-final duck, but also tilting truly for the title.
New Zealand slipped to their heaviest-ever Test defeat with that Twickenham loss to South Africa. And yet, the All Blacks could so easily come good when it matters most. Fiji can thrill and spill their way to a quarter-final, while Argentina will be looking to twist the knife into ailing England.
At least France’s raw rugby passion will concoct a tournament crescendo to tee up the Stade de France climax final on October 28. They say it shines silver in the light, the Webb Ellis Cup — they, the exclusive few to have lifted rugby’s most precious metal.
Kolisi already knows how it feels, how it glints a different colour under the onslaught of photographers’ flash bulbs. In 51 days’ time, storied skipper Kolisi could extend the Springbok supremacy — or a captain in different colours will launch a new legacy.