Johannesburg – Siya Kolisi has confidence in his youthful side for the first Test against higher-ranked England in Johannesburg on Saturday.
On the eve of his historic debut as the first black skipper after 127 years, the Springbok flanker told journalists his belief in his squad was unshakable despite it including many young players.
There are three new caps in a run-on team that will include a record-equalling seven blacks if tighthead prop Trevor Nyakane passes a fitness test on a rib injury that has been put back to Saturday.
“Every individual on the team that will be playing feels like they belong there. No one feels like they haven’t earned their spot. We all worked hard and played (trained) well.
“Me and the guys all feel we deserve to be on the team and the coach has helped us to develop that confidence.”
England, ranked third in the world and four places above South Africa, will test the youthful home team at Ellis Park stadium and Kolisi is aware that the youngsters will have to “fight for opportunities.
“What is important is that we put in the work. We can’t be scared, we need to be focused, we need to show them that we want this because we know that at Test rugby level, everyone is good (and) it comes down to who wants it more.”
Kolisi also reflected on his first opportunity to wear the green and gold colours – five years ago he made his Test debut as a 21-year-old against Scotland in Nelspruit.
“I remember everything about my debut. I was sitting on the bench, and I wasn’t watching the game early on. I was drinking water and spitting it out for some reason, probably because I was so nervous.
“Johann van Graan (an assistant coach) quickly pulled me aside, though, and just told me to forget everything because I had been struggling a bit in the week with getting to know all the new stuff.
“He just told me to do what I do, and every time I got the ball – and it came my way all day – I just ran with it.”
Kolisi has come a long way since. His father, wife and children will be among the Ellis Park crowd rooting for him.
Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:05.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane/Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw/Thomas du Toit, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Warrick Gelant
15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Mike Brown, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Substitutes: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Denny Solomona