Kolisi hailed as Boks top England

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New South Africa captain Siya Kolisi was a bag of nerves when the Springboks were blown away by a rampant England in the early stages of Saturday's first test at Ellis Park.
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South Africa flanker and captain Siya Kolisi is tackled during the first rugby union test against England at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.

New South Africa captain Siya Kolisi was a bag of nerves when the Springboks were blown away by a rampant England in the early stages of Saturday’s first test at Ellis Park but praised his charges for rallying to win a pulsating encounter.

“I was very nervous as we didn’t expect to have such a tough time early in the game, but we have guys who had been in situations like that before,” the first black player to captain the Springboks said after his side had prevailed 42-39.

“Credit to the new caps, because they didn’t panic and showed they just wanted to play, so we decided to take control of the game and it worked,” the loose forward added after his side overcame a 21-point deficit to triumph.

“Everything came together for us, the nerves were gone, we managed to get into sync and do those things that we know we can do well. We obviously would have wanted to start better, but the character the guys showed was amazing.”

The win put a seal on a historic day as the symbolism of Kolisi’s appointment was widely hailed, capped by a standing ovation from the Ellis Park crowd in Johannesburg at the end of the game as the debut skipper and his teammates completed a lap of honor.

“There was a lot of pressure in the week with the hype around the making of history, it must have been very emotional for Siya,” said former Springbok flyhalf Joel Stransky, who kicked the 1995 World Cup-winning points at the same stadium. “It was goosebumps stuff for all of us. Boy, did he handle that emotion and pressure well and he’s shown himself to be a real leader.”

Coach Rassie Erasmus admitted he had made life a little more difficult for the new captain by getting the initial tactics wrong in just his second game in charge of the national side.

He expected England to kick more but was caught out when the visitors attacked the wide channels with relative ease to open a 24-3 lead in the first quarter of the match.

“We thought that with (scrumhalf) Ben Youngs and three flyhalves in their starting lineup, they were going to kick all day. Tactically, I got it wrong and that surprised the team,” Erasmus said.

“Credit to guys like Siya, who realized that and made the change in tactics. We started getting width on our defense and started attacking a lot more.”

The second contest in the three-match series is in Bloemfontein on Saturday, followed by the final test at Newlands in Cape Town on June 23.

Elsewhere, any doubts about David Pocock’s reintegration into Michael Cheika’s Wallabies were torpedoed at Lang Park as the flanker put in a match-winning performance to snap Ireland’s 12-game unbeaten streak.

Australia waited 18 months to see Pocock back in Wallabies colors after the openside took a sabbatical in 2017 to head back to Zimbabwe, labor on a farm and undertake conservation work in the country of his birth.

He kept busy during his time in Africa but also put in a mountain of work against the physical Irish, monstering them at the breakdown and scoring Australia’s second try to seal the 18-9 victory over the world’s second-ranked side.

Wearing the No. 6 jersey, Pocock reunited with captain and No. 7 Michael Hooper in the back row, the pair reprising the successful partnership that helped drive Australia to the World Cup final in 2015.

There was some doubt over how the two specialist opensides would gel, particularly after the ploy fell flat in a 0-3 series sweep by Eddie Jones’s England in 2016, but the Irish conceded the pair had comfortably won the battle of the breakdown.

There was no such apprehension from Pocock, however, or uncertainty about his ability to return to his test best after the long hiatus. “It’s one of those things you don’t think too much about,” he said in Brisbane yesterday. “You just back yourself and know that if you are doing all your prep, the physical and mental stuff, you’ll get back to your best.”

Meanwhile, France backtracked yesterday on claims of “dangerous” and “illegal” play by the All Blacks and accepted the double head fracture that put Remy Grosso in hospital was the result of an accident.

The try-scoring wing was smashed in a tackle by All Blacks Sam Cane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi during the hosts’ 52-11 victory in Auckland on Saturday.

Cane was penalized for a high tackle but Tu’ungafasi escaped punishment, leaving furious French coach Jacques Brunel calling for the incident to be reviewed by officials immediately after the game.

But after going over replays himself, Brunel said he now accepted the collision was not deliberate. “After reviewing the case it seems accidental, Ofa appears to be going down when he and Sam Cane collided with Remy,” he said yesterday.

“On one screen it looked like his shoulder hit the head but on the other it seems it was head against head. It was accidental.”

The injuries have put Grosso out of the rest of the tour, but he will stay with the team until he is medically cleared to fly again.

Tu’ungafasi tweeted yesterday that he did not deliberately try to hurt Grosso.

“Remy, I hope you’re recovering well. It was a physical game and it wasn’t my intention to hurt you,” he wrote. “I’m also gutted that I didn’t get to see u after the game and u weren’t well for me to visit u in hospital this morning before we left but I hope to catch up soon brother.”


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