We break down his return for the Springboks

Siya Kolisi hadn’t played rugby since April and hadn’t played for the Springboks since November 2022. On Saturday, he was gifted a dream return as he played 40 minutes in a straightforward Boks victory. In this article we focus on Siya Kolisi’s comeback and what he did in that first half.

Is he ready to play a key role in South Africa’s World Cup repeat challenge?

1.51 – Kolisi’s first act is scoop up possession after Cheslin Kolbe is tackled in the air. Tom Rogers is penalised and so the attack that Kolisi is starting comes to nothing. Prior to this, Wales have had all the possession, kicking twice and reclaiming both times. Kolisi has been prowling the blindside. Wales have kept men there to try and stretch the South African defence but, with Kolisi in-situ, Wales haven’t risked attacking there.

3.35 – South Africa mauled from the lineout gifted by the penalty. They eventually spread the ball to the far side of the pitch. Kolisi stays close to the sideline and waits for the ball to come back to him. When it does, Jean Kleyn makes the carry with Kolisi a tip option. Kolisi latches on and pins Aaron Wainwright into the ruck. That also keeps Ben Carter and Jac Morgan on the openside of the ruck. 

Jaden Hendrikse attacks the undermanned blindside and gets to the Welsh 5m. Just a few phases later and Kolisi is responsible for unlocking the defence. Willie le Roux finds him with a short pass on the far side of the pitch. Kolisi frees his arms and offloads to Malcolm Marx for the first try.

Siya Kolisi's comeback

Tackling Dan Lydiate (Getty Images)

10.05 – For the second Welsh lineout in a row, Kolisi is deployed where we might expect the fly-half to be in defence. The first time around he would be disappointed that he made contact with Johnny Williams but couldn’t stop the centre. This time he stops Dan Lydiate but then fights to get over the ball. Wales need to throw three additional men into the ruck. The other 14 South African players are able to fan out and get set, putting Wales at a massive disadvantage.

15.29 – Rio Dyer kicks the ball long from a mark but fails to find touch. South Africa counter attack and although Damian De Allende chooses to carry himself, Kolisi has worked back behind the ball and is offering himself as a wide option. He stays wide for the second phase and Le Roux again finds him loitering on the wing. He gets to carry at Mason Grady and Williams as he makes it over the gain line and sets up a wide ruck.

26.19 – At this point the only attack that is working for Wales is their kick and regather – no doubt that won’t stop us hearing about how Wales are kicking too much though. Dyer wins another aerial battle and Wales spread the ball wide. Kolisi finds himself in no man’s land as he rushes up to stop Wales spreading the ball wide but gets beaten. He turns quickly and chases Cai Evans, catching him from behind inside the South African half. It’s a huge effort and Wales cough up possession two phases later.

27.25 – South Africa miss touch from the penalty in what was an error strewn first half. Kolisi is called upon to bring the ball back from the Welsh territorial kick. He’s functioning as a true link player; rarely getting involved in the tight carries but there out wide when the backs need someone to get them out of trouble. This time he hits it up between Corey Domachowski and Elliot Dee to put the Boks on the front foot again.

33.05 – South Africa have a lineout in the Welsh half that they again maul from. Despite being used out wide more regularly, Kolisi is in the heart of the maul. He receives it from the lineout and then somehow finds a way through. With Jac Morgan hanging off him, he carries to the 5m line. South Africa score through a penalty try shortly afterwards.

37.35 – Kolisi once again makes a mess of Wales’ lineout attack. This time probably not legally though. He brings down Johnny Williams and two Welsh players go beyond the ball to secure the ruck. It’s not out but Kolisi sweeps around and gets the benefit of the doubt. Wales kick, poorly, and South Africa get to go again. 

That proves to be the last act of Siya Kolisi’s comeback he’s removed at half-time. 

Siya Kolisi's comeback

Singing the national anthem (Getty Images)

All in all, it was a slightly frustrating half for South Africa, albeit one which they won by 15 points. Kolisi looked near enough back to his best, but it remains to be seen whether he will permanently be deployed out wide or whether that is a new role as he gets back to full fitness. 

Watching him closely, it’s an education in the value of doing your job. Kolisi so rarely gets involved in a ruck that someone else is better placed to win. We have all played with captains who want to do all 15 roles. Instead, Kolisi just wants to do his role to the best of his ability. While the Boks can make do without him, they’re a much better team when he is there and his return is huge for their hopes of winning again. 

What did you make of Siya Kolisi’s comeback? Let us know at rugbyworldletters@futurenet.com or on social media. 

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