Cheslin Kolbe has revealed how he initially feared his World Cup could be prematurely cut short after suffering a serious ankle injury during the pool stages, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In an exclusive interview for the latest SA Rugby magazine, Kolbe opened up about the full severity and his fears after picking up a worrying injury in the Springboks’ third pool game.
Kolbe had emerged as one of the Boks’ star performers in the World Cup opener against the All Blacks, and backed that up with another memorable two-try display against Italy.
Yet, there was a twist to the final few minutes of this clash when the Man of the Match was caught from behind and brought down in a tackle, horribly twisting his ankle in the process.
Kolbe put on a brave face immediately after the game, while in the days to follow the Springbok staff outwardly expressed confidence that the injury was nothing too serious. Yet, in a story that has not been widely shared, Kolbe tells SA Rugby magazine there were some dark days as he desperately tried to overcome the ankle strain.
‘It was a scary moment … Honestly I couldn’t stand up or walk comfortably just after it happened, it was so painful and my first reaction was that this could be bad for me … I just prayed I’d be able to recover and wouldn’t have to get on a plane home as I first feared could be the case.’
Doing everything in his power to recover, Kolbe repeatedly saw the team’s physiotherapist and religiously iced his ankle and conducted his rehab work.
Still unable to accelerate 100% or change direction comfortably, he continued his rest and rehabilitation as the Boks comfortably overcame Canada in the final pool game. But with that result booking a quarter-final against hosts Japan, Kolbe realised he had to prove his fitness.
‘I got back to training after missing the Canada week, and knew I had to start running again. That added to my doubts. At the beginning of the week before the quarter-final, at one point I just lay on my bed, and prayed … My wife and daughter were there to give me strength and that helped me a lot because I was in a dark place and thinking all sorts of things, but they kept me positive. I left it up to God, and put it out my mind.’
As Kolbe recounts, he woke up on the Tuesday before the big match, and suddenly felt free of discomfort and stress. He pushed through training and was mercifully cleared for quarter-final selection.
But the story doesn’t end there. In the opening exchanges against Japan, he would strain his ankle again. Despite again playing through the discomfort, it was clear that the wing wasn’t at his best.
Then, as per team selection policy, if any player was unable train on the Monday, they would not be considered for selection that weekend, which duly ruled Kolbe out of consideration for the semi-final against Wales.
SA Rugby magazine understands that by the end of the semi-final week, Kolbe was back to full fitness and impressive yet again in training. It posed something of a dilemma as the Springboks prepared to go into a crucial World Cup knockout match without one of their most influential players, despite the fact he was fully fit.
It’s an anecdote that may not have had such a happy ending if not for the Springboks’ ability to battle past Wales, before producing a stunning performance against England in the final, highlighted by Kolbe’s superb solo try that sent all of South Africa into delirious celebrations.
*The full feature with Kolbe can be found in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale.
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