Velvet before violence as Kolisi contemplates Twickenham

The irresistible reality of Siya Kolisi’s right fist met the immovable possibilities offered by his left palm with a solid‚ satisfying slap at a press conference in London on Friday‚ effectively punctuating an innocuous utterance.

“We’re looking for a hard battle up-front‚” Kolisi had said‚ but the sound his hands made as they collided with each other and the last word of that sentence said it so much more emphatically.

The telling difference between words and action captured the essence of the flank who will lead the Springboks against England at Twickenham on Saturday in the first — and most important — match of their end-of-year-tour: preach with velvet‚ play with violence.

But there’s plenty of scope for subtlety and thinking between those extremes.

“The thing we measure ourselves on is effort‚” Kolisi said. “We don’t look at talent and what you can do.

“[It’s about] how much you can do for the team — the stuff you don’t need talent for‚ the stuff people don’t see.

“We measure that‚ and it’s getting better and better every week.”

There didn’t seem to be much in the way of subtlety and thinking going on in much of the rest of the room.

Question: “Did you know much about those guys [England’s loose trio of Brad Shields‚ Tom Curry and Mark Wilson] when you saw their names on the team sheet?”

Kolisi: “Obviously I watch rugby. You get to know the people you’re playing against.”

That triggered a curious interest in the fact that a rugby player should choose to watch rugby.

“I watch because I enjoy watching rugby‚” Kolisi said‚ puzzlement creeping across his otherwise smooth face.

“There was rugby on TV and I was having a braai and enjoying watching the game.”

Like‚ duh‚ he didn’t say.

So it probably didn’t help when‚ in answer to a question about what he knew about Twickenham — where has hasn’t played before — from having watched matches beamed from there‚ he said‚ “When I was younger I didn’t watch rugby: I didn’t have a TV.”

Happily‚ Kolisi doesn’t have to explain the how and why of what he does to other rugby players — including opponents like England‚ some of whom he formed friendships with on their tour to South Africa in June.

“That’s the most amazing thing about rugby‚” he said. “We bash each other up for 80 minutes and afterwards we chat and get to know each other better.

“We had a couple of sing-songs afterwards; they started singing Shosholoza.”

Kolisi’s team for Saturday’s match is an experimental combination because several stalwarts are unavailable for selection as the game falls outside of the agreed international window.

Many eyes will be on Ivan van Zyl at scrumhalf‚ where Faf de Klerk would ordinarily be‚ and Damian Willemse at fullback‚ the domain of Willie le Roux.

Van Zyl is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of halfback: dependable but not dazzling.

Not so Willemse‚ a dazzler deluxe. But one who is better known as a flyhalf and‚ at 20‚ has played only three Tests.

On Saturday‚ he will be the starting fullback in a Test for the first time. Cause for concern?

“He’s young but he’s very confident‚” Kolisi said. “I don’t really worry about him because he’s very mature — the way he looks at clips and studies the game‚ and he also watches himself at training‚ that gives me so much confidence in him.”

Ah‚ but does he watch rugby? And can he sing Shosholoza?

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