After another impressive performance in an unusual position, it might be time to consider Cheslin Kolbe at fullback for the Boks, writes ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE.
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ So the mantra goes, anyway. And there is absolutely nothing broken about Kolbe on the wing (barring perhaps the ankles of a few unfortunate covering defenders).
Kolbe has been a Springbok revelation since his introduction to the team in 2018. Many would go as far as to say he is the best wing in world rugby at present. They’d have a strong case. Week in and week out, Kolbe produces undeniably impressive performances on the wing for Toulouse.
But his recent start at flyhalf for the French club once again illustrated just how multi-talented the 27-year-old is.
So, should I be considered a madman for suggesting that Jacques Nienaber experiment with Kolbe at fullback instead? Possibly.
However, bear with me as I state my case. There are in my mind a number of advantages to moving Kolbe to 15, if not permanently, then at least for a period of time.
From a rugby perspective, the freedom in attack afforded a fullback is greater than that given to a wing. Kolbe at 15 would have free reign to choose when to join the attacking line if he spotted an opportunity.
There is perhaps no player more devastating at picking the right moment to strike and the Boks should look to get the most out of Kolbe’s strength in this area.
Furthermore, instead of deploying Kolbe on the wing where he is often waiting for an opportunity to present itself, it would be worth giving him a more proactive role in shaping the Bok attack. Kolbe’s two games at flyhalf for the table-topping Toulouse show that clearly his coaches deem him to have the requisite skill to conduct a backline symphony.
As good as Kolbe undoubtedly is at creating linebreaks himself, it is his ability to put other players into space that has developed since he moved to Toulouse. As well as being a game-breaker, Kolbe has become a playmaker.
The Boks often rely on their fullback as a secondary playmaker, spotting space, then coming into the line to distribute and give direction to the attack. Willie le Roux has been absolutely crucial as the primary attacking strategist in the Bok side for a long time. I believe Cheslin Kolbe can perform a similar role.
Indeed, it is worth remembering that Le Roux also began his international career on the wing and later made the transition to 15. It was an inspired switch that unlocked his full potential as one of the best playmakers in South Africa.
Le Roux remains key to the Boks and will no doubt continue to be a part of Rassie and Jacques’ plans. However, at the wrong side of 30, it may be worth managing the wily fullback and planning for the future. Kolbe at 15 may be one option the Bok coaches could experiment with sooner rather than later.
A further benefit of giving Kolbe the 15 jersey: it opens up a spot on the wing. This is a position in which South Africa has a wealth of talent and it would make sense to give opportunities to players such as Sbu Nkosi, Stravino Jacobs or Aphelele Fassi (who is more comfortable at fullback but could be introduced on the wing as Warrick Gelant initially was).
Cheslin Kolbe is a once-in-a-generation talent. That much is clear. The Springbok management should not be afraid to push him by playing him at fullback. It might just end up being the next stage of his meteoric ascension.