Double World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi made his first public appearance as a Racing 92 player and admitted that it felt like “the first day back at school”.
Kolisi, who led the Springboks to the 2019 and 2023 World Cups, has joined the Top 14 club from the Sharks on a three-year deal.
“I’m excited,” he told reporters on Thursday, adding that he will make his debut for Racing against La Rochelle in Paris on 26 November.
“I started training on Tuesday and it’s exciting. It felt like the first day back at school.
“I’ve got a reputation, but it’s not my reputation that’s going to count on the pitch. I need to prove myself, learn a new language and get to grips with a new culture.
“The day I leave the club, I want people to be able to say that I gave it my all.”
Kolisi, 32, lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time after a 12-11 win over New Zealand at the Stade de France in the final on 28 October, after which the Boks were given a massive reception at home.
“It was amazing, way bigger than 2019,” he said. “People expected us to win this time and were following us the whole time.
“We won this for the people at home. When we were there [in South Africa], we could see why we sacrificed 20 weeks together. It was great to see how the people appreciated it. It made it all worthwhile.”
Kolisi said Racing coach Stuart Lancaster had wanted him to rest but “I really wanted to get to know my new teammates”.
“I feel like a child,” he said. “My achievements don’t mean anything. I still have a lot to learn. I can’t wait to get out on the pitch.”
Kolisi said he was due to sign for a club in Japan when former All Black Dan Carter, who had played for Racing, advised him to head to Paris instead.
“He thought it would be great, told me how great the club was,” said Kolisi.
“Being here and seeing all the players, I think the coaching staff has been amazing. When they talk about ‘family’ you really feel that.
“The French Top 14 is most famous for being the hardest competition in the world. It’s very physical. Almost every nation is a part of it. That’s what I am looking forward to.”
— Racing 92 (@racing92) November 9, 2023
Lancaster, who only took over as coach at the start of this season, welcomed Kolisi’s arrival not just for his talent on the field but his presence off it.
“What we get with Siya is the player, the person and his experience, that’s what I am most excited about,” said the former England boss.
“He is obviously a world class player. I want to add value to his game, as a coach I want to improve him.
“As a person I think he has the highest levels of integrity. The way he conducts himself is amazing, he’s a great role model.
“And his experience will be a huge asset to Racing as we can learn from his time in South Africa and on his journey as a rugby player.
“One of the strengths of the club is the diversity within the team with players from different parts of France but also from different countries. The arrival of Siya only adds to that.”
Racing are second in the Top 14 and travel, without Kolisi in the squad, to Toulon on Sunday.
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP