CAPE TOWN: South Africa captain Siya Kolisi did not have a television at home the last time the Springboks played in the Rugby World Cup final but 12 years on leads his team out in Saturday’s decider against England in a remarkable rags to riches story.

From growing up in a dusty, poverty-stricken township on the eastern coast of South Africa to the Yokohama International Stadium caps a remarkable journey for Kolisi, the first black man to captain the Springboks and now increasingly a new symbol for South African unity.

“For a young kid from Zwide township in Port Elizabeth to rise above circumstances and become Springbok captain and lead the way‚ he has just been inspirational to South Africans from all walks of life‚” teammate Tendai Mtawarira said in the build-up to Saturday’s final in Japan.

Kolisi grew up in one of the few black areas where rugby is as popular as soccer, raised by his paternal grandmother, but did not pick up a rugby ball until he was seven. 

His talent was quickly recognised, though for Kolisi rugby was no more than a distraction from life’s daily toil.

“It’s tough to stay on the right path because sometimes hunger makes you do things that you never thought you would do,” he explained before the kick-off of the World Cup last month.

“Some of my friends would steal and some died because they got into bad things.” – Reuters