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Siya Kolisi on the Cusp of Historic Achievement

Siya Kolisi

By Gerald Imray

NELSPRUIT, South Africa — This is part of the vision Nelson Mandela had for South Africa’s national rugby team.

A black player is set to make his debut with the Springboks after rising from a poor township in the home province of the former president and anti-apartheid icon.

Once closely associated with the apartheid government, the Springboks are often seen as an indicator of South African race relations.

The team has selected black players before and has long moved past the all-white squads of the apartheid years, but the story of Siya Kolisi resonates in its own way. The 21-year-old flanker is to take his place on the Boks’ bench against Scotland and likely play when the team makes its debut in the northeast city of in Nelspruit.

Kolisi is from the Zwide township in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape province, the kind of poor region Mandela wanted South African rugby to reach. Kolisi embodied the hope that the Springboks would reinvent themselves as a team that celebrated South Africa’s diversity and no longer contributed to its divisions.

“It’ll be a special day tomorrow for Siya. I think it’s a great story. I think it’s a great success story,” South Africa captain Jean de Villiers. “I think it is South Africa in a nutshell, hey? Someone that didn’t have the opportunities that maybe I had growing up.”

Kolisi and De Villiers represent something Mandela hoped for from the Springboks when he famously embraced the team at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

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