Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says a player like Cheslin Kolbe should serve as an inspiration for aspiring sevens players who have made the transition to fifteens, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In many ways, Kolbe has become rugby’s poster boy for proving that ability, rather than size, is all that matters when it comes to succeeding at the highest level.
Once undeniably undervalued in South Africa, Kolbe is now a rugby rockstar in France where he has become a fan favourite at Toulouse, while his exploits for the Springboks since making his debut in 2018 have elevated him into a class of his own.
While still with Western Province and the Stormers, Kolbe also made 30 appearances for the Springbok Sevens, which many onlookers at the time felt was best suited to his size and skills.
However, there has been a considerable change to the nature of the game in both the sevens and 15-man format in recent years, with players such as Kolbe proving that size is not the only defining factor when it comes to making an immense impact on the club and Test stage.
In South Africa, there are an increasing number of players who have progressed through the highly-successful sevens system and are now looking to make an impact in fifteens.
Just last weekend, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Stedman Gans and Werner Kok were all impressive in the first warm-up games of the season, while Seabelo Senatla was set to feature in this Saturday’s Springbok Showdown if not for injury.
Rosko Specman, who has proven to be a standout star on the sevens circuit, will also be looking to demonstrate what he can offer when he starts for the Springbok Gold team this weekend.
Stick, who has previously captained the Blitzboks and will be coaching the Bok Green team at Newlands, said it was incredibly encouraging to see the connection that was developing between the sevens and fifteens system.
‘You know I’ve got a soft spot for players from the sevens,’ he said with a smile. ‘Cheslin comes from that system and is now one of the best in the world. Also look at someone like Rosko, who was really good at the Bulls. It’s so good to see they can make it from sevens into fifteens.
‘Sometimes it used to be a case of sidelining someone with an excuse about size, but now these players are getting an opportunity if it’s seen that they play with a big heart and courage. Size doesn’t matter any more, and these players are coming through now.’
This sentiment was also recently echoed by Bulls coach Jake White.
‘It’s really a feather in the cap of [Blitzboks coach] Neil Powell and [Sevens academy coach] Marius Schoeman. They work superbly with those players, whose basic skills are unbelievable.
‘They can catch and pass effectively. Their defence is robust and they understand the game so well. You immediately see when you start working with them that their work ethic is excellent. It’s really encouraging for me that we can incorporate such players so seamlessly into the fifteen-man format.
‘The rules now encourage players to carry the ball, especially with tacklers expected to roll away immediately. It means you’re going to be afforded more space and that’s where the strengths of players with sevens experience really come to the fore,’ he added.
Stick said they were now looking forward to seeing how these players progressed.
‘It’s very true when you look at a player like Kurt-Lee, with his skills and mindset, it’s similar to what we’re looking for at the Springboks with that warrior spirit, a guy who will put it all on the line, and so it’s really good to see them making it through.’