‘He just shows age means nothing’ – Springboks captain Siya Kolisi backs Johnny Sexton to overcome latest setback

Missing the end of Leinster's season will be painful for Johnny Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

Cian Tracey

As Leinster continue to come to terms with the reality that Johnny Sexton has likely played his last game for the province, Siya Kolisi knows that will only add extra motivation for him to go out on a high with Ireland at the World Cup later this year.

The South Africa captain is full of admiration for how Sexton has managed to defy his doubters, as well as Father Time by continuing to play at such a high level at the age of 37.

Kolisi and Sexton are on course to face off at the World Cup later this year, with Ireland set to take on the Springboks in Paris on September 23.

The Boks skipper acknowledged that Sexton’s absence would be sorely felt by Leinster, but he believes that the veteran out-half will not take any chances with his fitness, as he looks to ensure that he does not jeopardise his World Cup dream.

Kolisi, who led his country to glory in Japan four years ago, understands what’s at stake for Sexton.

“Obviously he has been amazing this year. He has been really amazing. He is a great leader for the Irish team and for Leinster as well,” Kolisi said.

“One thing that I like about him is that he just shows age means nothing with the way that he has played this year.

“I love when people defy all the odds, maybe someone didn’t back him and said he was too old, but the way that he is playing at the moment, it makes a huge difference when he is not in that Irish side.

“But I know for a fact that the guys that are playing behind him will take their opportunities. And it’s an opportunity to see (other guys) because you never know what might happen at the World Cup.

“So, it’s a great opportunity for the coaches to look at other players. They will see who has the authority to take that position.

“Maybe they already have a second-choice, but they are looking at the third and fourth-choice going forward.

“It’s unlucky, but hopefully he can get back soon. Obviously they will be very conservative, making sure that he is ready for the World Cup.”

Kolisi will captain the Sharks in Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup knockout clash with Munster in Durban, as he looks to pick up more insight in the Irish psyche.

It helps too that Kolisi is working on a daily basis with a Munster man in Noel McNamara, who is in his final season working as the Shark’s attack coach before he is believed to be moving to France to join Bordeaux.

20 May 2022; Siya Kolisi of Cell C Sharks arrives before the United Rugby Championship match between Ulster and Cell C Sharks at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

“He’s good, really good. I’ve really enjoyed working with him,” Kolisi said of the Clare native, who previously coached the Ireland U-20s and the Leinster Academy.

“I think the Irish generally play a different style of rugby to us, so he is trying to make us see a different way to play rugby.

“He’s always getting us to pass the ball. We are generally a team that will have one pass and then take it up, so he is trying to bring variety in our group.

“He’s also an amazing human being. We meet almost every morning for coffee. I’ve gotten very close to him, so it’s going to be tough to not work with him next year. He’s a very good man and a great coach as well.”

Of course, Kolisi also works closely with another Irish attack coach in the Springboks setup, as Felix Jones is now a well-established part of Rassie Erasmus’ backroom team.

“Yeah, similar but different at the same time,” Kolisi (31) said when asked if McNamara and Jones were similar in their mindsets.

“They do similar things but it’s obviously through different levels.

“It’s always good to see the way that other countries see rugby. Sometimes it’s different to us and we can always learn and be better at a few things.

“They don’t try and take away the things we are good at, they just try to add a little bit more skill in whatever.”

Saturday will see Kolisi come up against one of his South African team-mates in RG Snyman.

Kolisi is delighted to see the towering Munster lock back to full fitness following a horrific spell out with back-to-back ACL injuries, as Snyman targets a place in the Boks’ World Cup squad.

“It’s never nice to see a player go through an injury period, especially a long one like he has,” Kolisi said.

“For him to stay in the fight, because a lot of people can give up and just not work but he stayed in it. And it shows as well, how special of a team Munster are as a club, as a union, to stick with him and keep on looking after him.

“That’s the values you want in a club, that’s going to be with you through the toughest of times and him staying there and fighting through it.

“For us it’s an inspiration to keep on going and working hard until he got to that moment and I don’t care who he plays for, it doesn’t matter who he is, as long as a player is like that I really get inspired by that and I’ve been rooting for him.

“Obviously I want him to do well because he’s a very good friend of mine. I really enjoy playing with him and it’s not always nice to play against him and I don’t want him to play too well but I’m glad that he’s on the pitch and is playing.

“I hope that it inspires a lot of guys who get injuries to know that it is possible to get them up and with the backing of your club, it’s huge that Munster could back him like that,” Kolisi added.

“So, I’m really happy for him and the club to have him back… and obviously the country, South Africa, is happy to have him back too.”