Siya Kolisi, Aphiwe Dyantyi to conclude year of progress by living Barbarians dream

Siya Kolisi became the 61st Springboks captain in June and the first black South African to lead the Boks. Warren Little/Getty Images

LONDON, ENGLAND -- Siya Kolisi can't stop smiling as he pictures himself pulling on the famous black and white jersey of the Barbarians this weekend.

"It's my dream and I'm getting goosebumps thinking about it," Kolisi tells ESPN, at the end of an historic year which saw the Stormers flanker become the first black captain of the Springboks.

Kolisi led South Africa to a series win over England in June, victory against New Zealand in September and impressive road wins in Paris and Edinburgh this November. There were disappointments as well, but 2018 saw the Springboks make great strides, not only as a team but socially too.

He arrived in London earlier this week alongside 12 of his South African teammates and head coach Rassie Erasmus, joining representatives from seven other countries in forming the Barbarians, who face Argentina at Twickenham on Saturday.

It's the first time Kolisi had been asked to join the renowned invitational side and there was no hesitation in accepting. As Erasmus revealed on Monday, his players were all desperate to play. There was no temptation to pack up for the year and hit the beach, which would have been understandable following what has been a long and tiring season.

"There were some ups and there some downs and I think we obviously wanted to do so much better than we did, but we've learned and improved a lot," Kolisi reflects. "I think the respect we wanted to gain back and the respect we wanted to get back in the Springboks jersey, I think we got a bit of that."

South Africa were on the floor at the start of the year following the unsuccessful tenure of Allister Coetzee. Erasmus took over in March and handed Kolisi the armband for his first home Test, as the Springboks came from behind to defeat England on an emotional night in Johannesburg. "He's been amazing, he's made a huge impact on my life," Kolisi says.

"South Africa is a unique country and there are a lot of things that we must [continue to] do," he adds. "I'm glad to see the country backing us and a lot more people that never watch rugby now watch rugby, which is awesome to see. We filled up the stadiums in South Africa which is something which hasn't happened in a while."

In a country which has often struggled to redress South African rugby's relationship with race, Kolisi's impact as the team's first black captain cannot be understated in the Springboks' transformation -- neither can the emerging talents of Sibusiso Nkosi and World Rugby's Breakthrough Player of the Year Aphiwe Dyantyi.

"I think we're heading in the right direction," Kolisi says. "To have a guy like Aphiwe, I mean his story is amazing. He played soccer and now he's got to win Breakthrough of the Year at the rugby awards."

Kolisi joined Dyantyi as the winger picked up the award in Monaco on Sunday. Dyantyi only made his debut in June -- scoring in the same match against England which saw Kolisi captain the side for the first time -- and didn't look back, adding a further five tries in his first year as an international.

"I wouldn't say everything happened overnight," says Dyantyi, who will also be making his first Barbarians appearance on Saturday. "It's been a lot of work that has been put in, back at home, back at my union. But for me when the opportunity came I guess I took it.

"The highlight was my debut game, that was a special one. Especially having started on the back foot, and the guys showing a lot of character to come back and actually win the game."

And for Dyantyi, the significance of representing the Barbarians is clear.

"It's the heritage that comes with playing for the Barbarians," he grins. "If I can share in the jersey with some of the legends of the game, guys who have donned the jersey in the past, for me that is truly special.

"I mean, it's not every day where you get to play in the same jersey as guys who have played for other nations. It adds another dynamic. It's the unconventional things that the Barbarians have come to being accustomed to. I'm really excited to try a few tricks on Saturday."