From Pieter-Steph du Toit to Jaque Fourie, some world-class players have completed successful positional switches. We unpack this a little further.
Cheslin Kolbe’s archive of thrilling highlights features him mostly as a deadly threat off the wing but he started at flyhalf for Toulouse this past Saturday, helping to secure a rare victory at La Rochelle that boosted the defending champions into first place in the Top 14.
Arguably the most elusive runner in the game today, Kolbe began his professional career at fullback for Western Province and his current appearances at flyhalf (his schoolboy position) appear to have drawn widespread support, despite rugby fans almost crashing Twitter a few years ago with their outcry in response to former Springbok coach Nick Mallett’s view that the dynamo would be best utilised at scrumhalf.
News of a coach making a positional switch is often met with loathing, but Kolbe certainly isn’t the first player to thrive from a change of digits on his back.
Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie both shifted positions to team up in what many regard as the greatest Bok midfield tandem.
There was deafening support for De Villiers to move to inside centre from the wing despite him gaining recognition as a deadly finisher in the SA U21 team that clinched a world championship under Jake White in 2002, while Fourie initially caught the eye at Ellis Park as a wide-striding wing/fullback before being redeployed at outside centre.
Bok fullback Willie le Roux originally burst on to the scene as an unpredictable playmaking flyhalf for Boland, Bakkies Botha turned the Bok No 4 jersey into something that gave kids nightmares after beginning his career at the Falcons as a blindside flank and John Smit went from being a mobile loosehead prop to packing down as an oversized hooker.
And who can forget Bryan Habana swopping centre for wing where he ended his career as South Africa’s all-time leading try-scorer?
Changing positions doesn’t always work out for the best (Ruan Pienaar to wit) but when it does, the switch can sometimes be the catalyst for launching a world champion.