BY ENOCK MUCHINJO
FORMER South Africa coach Peter de Villiers did not leave behind pleasing results in his shortened tenure with Zimbabwe in 2018, but the choreographed pre-match formalities that he imported from the Springboks is one legacy the neighbours are happy to carry on.
A group photo of the match-day 23 and the coaching staff is followed on the eve of the game by a kit presentation ceremony, where a specially invited prominent figure hands out the jerseys to the starting XV as well as the substitutes.
It can be a top player or renowned administrator, past or present, or any influential person in society chosen by the coach or association.
So during Zimbabwe’s debut season in South Africa’s SuperSport Challenge last year, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi—five months before famously leading his country to World Cup success in Japan—gladly answered the call from the adoring neighbours’ camp.
A cheerful Kolisi arrived at Zimbabwe’s quiet suburban lodgings in Cape Town on a cold Friday evening in May 2019 ahead of the side’s clash with Free State XV the following day.
Kolisi was clearly quite pleased to perform the duty, laughing and chatting with everyone throughout the event.
More so, perhaps, out of the realisation of the presence at the function of a fellow Springbok history-maker—Zimbabwe assistant coach Tonderai Chavhanga — who scored a record six tries on debut when Kolisi, South Africa’s first black rugby captain, was still a 14-year-old up-and-coming player experiencing a tough upbringing in an impoverished Eastern Province township.
The encounter with the revered Boks skipper was an opportunity to cherish for the entire Zimbabwe squad.
“It was definitely a humbling experience and definitely an honour to have the Springbok captain, who has since won the World Cup, coming through to hand out our jerseys,” Zimbabwe’s captain Brandon Mandivenga told IndependentSport this week.
“To have someone of his stature, the captain of the best team in the world, personally giving us our jerseys, is something both myself and the team will definitely not forget in a hurry.
He did speak to me personally and the team. He told us his story, where he came from, and he encouraged us to keep believing in our abilities, to keep fighting.
He told us that anything is possible. Listening to his story, and what he has achieved, his speech to us was definitely a testimony to that.”
Italy-based utility back Mandivenga remarked that watching South Africa being crowned world champions under Kolisi’s leadership brought back a flood of memories from the Cape Town meeting.
“It was definitely a heart-warming moment watching him lift the World Cup trophy,” said the 25-year-old Sables skipper. “Having spoken to him months before, sharing quite a happy time, it was a great thing to see the World Cup being lifted by someone who definitely deserved the accolade.”
The biggest cheer of the night back in May 2019, in the hotel’s dining room in Cape Town, erupted when the name Njabulo Ndlovu was called up and the big Zimbabwe loose forward walked to join Kolisi at the front to receive his jersey.
Zimbabwe teammates of Ndlovu reckon the experienced Sables man bears a striking resemblance to the Boks captain, who is interestingly also a loose forward.
“We had a joke that was ongoing in the team that Njabulo looks exactly like Siya and when it was time to hand out the jersey to Njabulo everyone chanted ‘Kolisi, Kolisi!’ because they looked so alike standing next to each other,” chuckled Mandivenga.
“It was a very funny moment and Siya also enjoyed it, which was good to see!”