SIYA Kolisi was born at the dawn of the New South Africa, a time of hope and expectations for a country on the brink of epic change. But for millions of South Africans, including the Stormers’ sensational flank, those early days of democracy were not a fairy tale.
Born to a 16-year-old mother and a father who was in matric in the Port Elizabeth township of Zwide, Kolisi was raised by his grandmother after his mother, Phakama, died when he was 15.
“Times were tough when I was little and often there wasn’t food. I would go to bed hungry,” Kolisi says. “Sometimes we didn’t have enough money to pay my primary school fees, which were only R50 a year.”
Spotted at an under-12 rugby festival by Grey Junior School rugby master Andrew Hayidakis, Kolisi was given a scholarship to PE’s most elite sporting school. By grade 11, he was playing for the Grey first XV, but that level of rugby was easy for a youngster who had been playing township rugby against hardebaarde for years.
Forbidden from playing club rugby because of his scholarship, Kolisi continued to sneak out for the odd game because he loved the sport so much, and because playing with his township mates was fun. Inevitably, though, he suffered a serious ankle injury in one of the club games, but fortunately after the Grey rugby season ended. He told his rugby coaches he injured himself playing a social game of soccer. He’s never confessed until now.
Kolisi clearly has a naughty streak but he is also dedicated to his profession. Like all 20-year-olds with talent, his dream is to play for the Boks.
For now, though, he has the not insignificant task of deputising for the injured Schalk Burger for the next four rounds of the Super Rugby competition.
Stormers fans buried their heads when Burger limped of f, but frowns turned to smiles when Kolisi started knocking down Hurricanes ball carriers in a way that would make Burger proud.
Last week, he had a big game against a highly physical Sharks side – while still learning to be an openside flank. Kolisi has always been a ball carrier, and now his task is to be a fetcher. It’s a steep, and probably unfair learning curve for a player just trying to find his feet in such an uncompromising tournament.
But “unfair” is not a word that exists in his vocabulary.