Four opponents who have been victimised by Cheslin Kolbe’s elusiveness have given a few pointers to the British & Irish Lions as they prepare to negate the Springbok dynamo on Saturday.
Kolbe, who tore European rivals to shreds for Toulouse this season, is set to be a key factor for South Africa in the three-Test series against the Lions.
In an interview with the Telegraph, La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara, France and Clermont centre Wesley Fofana, Wasps flyer Marcus Watson and Italy and Harlequins centre Michele Campagnaro explained the unique challenges of trying to contain Kolbe.
“This guy is very special,” O’Gara declared. “He genuinely is the Lionel Messi of rugby. I really feel that. He’s a joy to watch.”
“Sometimes you have to sit back, say ‘Wow’ and feel that you can accept being beaten by some of the genius he produced on a rugby pitch.”
Kolbe is as close to untouchable as is possible on a rugby field, renowned for making defenders miss in the narrowest of spaces. Fofana recalls a similar experience in April 2019.
“I have a memory of playing against Toulouse at Toulouse,” he explained. “It was a crazy game [Toulouse won 47-44] and at one stage, in an important moment in the match, we were defending well.
“Kolbe received a pass and fell over on the field, so we were able to push up to him. In a split-second, he watched our defence. Then he tried something crazy. He beat one defender, two defenders, three defenders and scored between the posts.
“It was bad for our heads because against a good defence, with good players in front of him, he did something special and got five points for his team.
“If your mind wanders for a second, it is a break for Toulouse or South Africa.”
Campagnaro, who also fell victim to Kolbe’s brilliance during Italy’s World Cup clash with the Boks, is adamant Kolbe is stoppable.
“He’s the best at what he does and he’s very difficult to stop. He’s done that to everyone.
“With strong linespeed you take away time and space, and hopefully don’t give him too many opportunities to dance around you like he loves to do,” he said.
“He’s amazing. He’s great. But he’s stoppable, too. If you stay connected in the line, you can hold him. He’s world class at what he does, but with a good defence and a good strategy, you can stop him. He is human!”
Watson, older brother of Anthony Watson who is in the Lions team for this weekend, believes for all Kolbe’s excellence, his sibling can hold his own against the South African phenom.
“Cheslin’s very good in the air as well, but I’d back Anthony against most people in the air,” Watson says. “They’re both good attacking players, so that is a contest I’d like to see. My only advice to him would be to use the touchline if he can.
“Cheslin scored two tries against Ulster [in September 2020] and Jacob Stockdale was hung out to dry a couple of times in the same game because the inside defender had bitten straight in [on the passer]. I would say to Anthony not to let the defenders on his inside die.
“Then he has the safety blanket there and he can use the touchline as well. When that bloke has both shoulders to attack, and space on both sides, there are not too many people better.”
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