Cheslin Kolbe’s aerial skills will be missed as much as his attacking edge when the Springboks battle Wales in the World Cup semi-final, writes JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo.
Should Willie le Roux be backed to start against Wales? The debate is redundant now that another key back-three player in Kolbe has been ruled out with an ankle injury.
Le Roux, Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi will be tasked with, among other things, diffusing the Welsh high bombs on Sunday. The Boks have enjoyed mixed results in this department over the past few weeks.
The one player who has consistently risen to the occasion, so to speak, has been the diminutive Kolbe. The opposition has failed to successfully exploit the wing’s 1.71m height. Kolbe’s timing for leaping and plucking the ball from the sky has been impeccable.
Nkosi is certainly no slouch in this department, though. The powerfully built wing with a knack for finishing is one of the best high-ball exponents in South Africa. Mapimpi recently told SA Rugby magazine that Nkosi has helped the Bok No 11 develop his own aerial game over the past 18 months.
Le Roux has battled in this area, however, since the start of the tournament. His passing and catching game has been less than consistent, as seen in the recent quarter-final against Japan.
But Erasmus was never going to drop Le Roux at this stage.
This backline has been built on the talents – wild though they may seem at times – of Le Roux and Faf de Klerk. The fullback is not only one of the key playmakers in the back division, but the communicator in chief. While his individual execution has been below par, his influence as a leader and organiser is highly valued by the Bok coaching staff.
The Boks would have benefited from another form player such as Kolbe at the back. While only 25 and relatively new to Test rugby, Kolbe has been exposed to a number of high-pressure games in recent years. He certainly passed the defensive and aerial test when the Boks faced the All Blacks in Yokohama five weeks ago.
Nkosi, on the contrary, hasn’t played against top-flight opposition since the friendly against Argentina in mid-August. His high-ball strengths will be put to the test when Wales unleash a series of bombs this Sunday.
What Nkosi can’t do is kick as well as Kolbe. The wing’s left boot has been an asset to the Boks this year. His absence will rob South Africa of another good exit option and limit their tactical and attacking potency from the back.
The game should be seen as an opportunity, though, for the new-look back three to make a statement. Le Roux has a point to prove. Mapimpi has been the best finisher in a team that hasn’t made enough of its scoring chances.
Nkosi, the first-choice No 14 in the series against England last June, is not the type of player that enjoys watching the big games from the stands. A strong all-round performance may give Erasmus reason to back Nkosi in the 23 should the Boks advance to the decider.