Cheslin Kolbe has received due praise for his attacking X factor, but it’s his defence and aerial skills that have elevated the wing to new heights, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In South Africa’s opening World Cup clash with the All Blacks, the diminutive Kolbe stood head and shoulders above any other Springbok. He made 118m, nine carries and beat 11 defenders in one of the all-time great individual Bok performances at a World Cup.
A couple of weeks later, he turned the magic on once again – scoring two tries against Italy in addition to making 100 run metres and beating four defenders. In the aftermath of that performance, praise and plaudits poured in from around the rugby globe.
‘He played a wonderful game. I thought that everything from his attack to his defence to his aerial game was very good,’ Bok coach Rassie Erasmus enthused. ‘Cheslin must be among the best players in the world.’
Former Bok coach Nick Mallett, who has previously called for Kolbe to consider a switch to scrumhalf, added to the chorus of praise: ‘Cheslin Kolbe happens to be my favourite rugby player in the world at the moment … he is really the heartbeat of this Springbok side.’
On social media, Juan de Jongh suggested that Kolbe could well be a leading contender to be named the World Rugby Player of the Year. Gio Aplon seconded that. Bryan Habana concurred. And on it went.
None of this will come as a great surprise to those who have followed Kolbe’s upward trajectory since making a highly beneficial move from the Stormers to French club Toulouse, where he has become something of a cult figure.
As one of the most consistently impressive performers in Europe, it’s during his time overseas that Kolbe has evolved his game, refining his aerial abilities and fine-tuning his gutsy defence.
It’s on these points in particular that Kolbe has to be hailed from the loftiest of platforms. Kolbe is living, breathing proof that size does not matter, but his flyweight dimensions only serve to add further incredulity to his achievements.
The wing stands 1.7m tall (or should that be short) and tips the scales at just 80kg. Last year, he fronted up against All Blacks opposite number Rieko Ioane (1.89m and 102kg) and acquitted himself with guts and gumption.
It’s really only got better since then. He has since set this World Cup ablaze.
Last Friday, his Man of the Match performance was the defining feature of the Boks’ 49-3 win against Italy. His dazzling footwork and electrifying speed are unmissable, but his strengths in the air and effectiveness on defence deserve greater acclaim.
In the clip below, Kolbe’s timing and ability to keep his eyes on the ball allow him to superbly beat Italian No 8 Sergio Parisse (1.96m and 112kg) to a high ball.
Later in a game in which he had recorded a 100% tackle success, Kolbe this time pounced on Italy’s Matteo Minozzi, forcing him towards touch and into making a reckless pass, which was snapped up by RG Snyman to score.
What Kolbe has proven beyond doubt is that these are not one-off occasions.
Under fierce pressure against the All Blacks in the World Cup opener, you can see below how he again keeps his eyes trained on the ball to pluck a contestable kick from the grasp of Anton-Lienert Brown while calling for the mark.
And then, perhaps here’s the best of the lot as he rose to collect a kick from Aaron Smith and then darted away from two would-be defenders before turning Richie Mo’unga inside out.
All in all, Kolbe has proven that he is no one-trick pony. Rather, he is a rare thoroughbred stallion. A once-in-a-generation player who has not only disproved his doubters, but who is also defying the laws of physics.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images