‘Kolbe can succeed at scrumhalf’

South African Sevens coach Neil Powell believes Cheslin Kolbe has the necessary attributes to make the move to scrumhalf. BRENTON CHELIN reports.

Kolbe's early-season form for the Stormers has reopened the debate about his future-standing in South African rugby. He remains one of the most exciting prospects in Vodacom Super Rugby and one of the most technically gifted players South Africa has produced in recent times, and yet he remains no closer to a Springbok call-up.

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett believes Kolbe is doomed to fail in his fight for international recognition at his preferred fullback position given his diminutive stature, and has insisted his future lies elsewhere.

Powell, who played Super Rugby for numerous South African franchises, told SARugbymag.co.za that while Kolbe has the ability to succeed as a scrumhalf, the move might not be in the best interests of the player or South African rugby.

'He’s certainly got the skill set and the knowledge of the game to be a success at scrumhalf,' said Powell. 'He’s got a good pass both ways and a solid boot, but it's his vision and ability to put guys into space that makes him an exciting prospect. But it will take some time to master the finer details of scrumhalf play.'

Mallett made mention of Kolbe's experience with the Blitzboks as a scrumhalf, but Powell says the two roles are vastly different.

‘There’s a big difference between scrumhalf in sevens and in 15s. In sevens you only really play scrumhalf at the scrum and you don’t follow the ball as you do in 15s, so I’m not sure playing scrumhalf at sevens level will aid him in a move to 15s.

'If they want to move him to scrumhalf, then it needs to be done sooner rather than later. Maybe start with the Currie Cup this year and see how he goes. It’s not as quick, not as physical and you have a bit more time to make decisions as opposed to Super Rugby.

'It will probably take him a full Currie Cup to adapt and he will come into his own as a scrumhalf during Super Rugby next season.'

The question remains, though, why would you want to move one of your most potent attacking weapons to a position where he'll be bogged down by responsibilities and closely marshalled by the defence?

Kolbe has proven himself as a dangerous attacking option from the back at both Currie Cup and Super Rugby levels, while his physicality on defence belies his small stature. Powell believes that despite his size, there's still a role for him as a fullback or wing at international level.

'By moving him to scrumhalf, you will take away his ability to run the ball back at the opposition from the back. That’s what Cheslin’s good at. If you give him the ball in space he will punish you, because he’s got good running skills and a phenomenal step.

'The defence is usually very well organised around the edge of the rucks, and there won’t be as many opportunities around.

'Heyneke [Meyer] has his reasons for not selecting Cheslin. He obviously feels that at international level he won’t be able to dominate in the air due to his size. It’s a matter of opinion. Willie le Roux is a similar type of player, but physically he’s a little bit bigger.

'He can still make it at international level [as a fullback], even if it’s as an impact player. Imagine bringing him on for the last 20 minutes when the opposition forwards are tired and there are holes in the defensive line. He's a great attacking weapon to have, they just need to find a way to use him.'

Nick Mallett: Kolbe should shift to scrumhalf

Photo: Peter Heeger/Gallo Images