The time has finally come for Siya Kolisi to lead not only the Springboks, but the entire nation, as he takes them into battle against England at the Emirates Stadium (Ellis Park) on Saturday.
The most important thing is playing well, but it'll probably hit home on Saturday when I run onto the field that I'm Springbok captain.Siya Kolisi
Born in Zwide township near Port Elizabeth, the 26-year-old loose forward will be the first black Bok to lead his country in a Test match. It's a monumental occasion for Springbok fans, but one that some rugby veterans — and the Stormers star himself — are downplaying.
Instead, they're putting the spotlight on how it makes him feel as a rugby player, rather than a historical landmark.
The 26-year-old spoke to the media on Friday in Johannesburg ahead of the match, and was in a buoyant mood at the prospect of playing in front of a capacity Ellis Park crowd.
"Ellis Park is one of my favourite fields to play on besides Newlands. To see the different races singing the national anthem at Ellis Park is always special," Kolisi said.
"The most important thing is playing well, but it'll probably hit home on Saturday when I run onto the field that I'm Springbok captain."
HuffPost spoke to pundits and former Bok players, who applauded the historic moment.
It's a game-changer for South Africa, not just rugby but for the nation.Simnikiwe Xabanisa, rugby anaylst
"It is a massive game for SA as a country. Having Siya as captain, a guy with humble beginnings and a wonderful story, it is truly an inspiration — it's a game-changer for South Africa, not just rugby but for the nation," rugby analyst Simnikiwe Xabanisa said.
However, Xabanisa also said of the "the first black captain" coverage: "It puts unnecessary pressure on him. In a country like ours, [focusing on black 'firsts'] almost became normalised, but it shouldn't be. When it comes to the actual rugby, that's what we should be worried about."
Xabanisa was, however, confident that Kolisi would be able to cope with the pressure, pointing out that he deals with these encounters with SA's fractured race perceptions in his day-to-day life with his wife Rachel, who is white. He believes Kolisi is strong enough to carry the burden.
The new captain has played in 28 Tests since making his debut, aged 22, against Scotland in Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) — on June 15 2013. He has four Test tries to his name, which account for his total of 20 points in the green and gold.
Siya will lead — that is a historic day for me and all black players to have worn the Springbok jersey.Thando Manana
Former Bok Thando Manana said he will have goosebumps on Saturday; a day he never imagined.
"Siya will lead — that is a historic day for me, and all the black players who have worn the Springbok jersey. It has great significance in SA rugby.
"Siya will know he is representing the country. I will have tears in my ears. I never saw this coming."
Manana also spoke about the focus, driven by "the media", he said, on Kolisi being a "black" Springbok. He said the debate ignores his leadership skills, and instead focuses on his skin colour — which has no relevance to his abilities as captain.
"A captain is a person who can lead — and that is something Siya is great at," he stressed.
"Nonetheless we are proud to have an African captaining South Africa. Tomorrow will not be about Siya, but SA. I am definitely sure he will pass with flying colours".
In May, Owen Nkumane, a former Springbok player and current SuperSport rugby analyst, shared the same sentiments.
"Let him lead [don't put pressure on the guy], he is a leader, let him lead. Let's not put this colour thing in it," Nkumane said.
He also felt Kolisi should be judged on his performance as skipper, and that the "first black Bok captain" label puts him under unnecessary pressure.
"Let him be ranked [like] your Morne du Plessis; when you put the colour thing on him, it becomes unfair. When Warren Whiteley was captain, he was not labelled. Let the young man lead; allow him that chance."