Kolbe: Now for the next step
Cheslin Kolbe (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Confirmed: Cheslin Kolbe can play Currie Cup rugby, and then some.VIDEO: WP bloopers reel!
Whatever happens to him and Western Province in the knockout run-in this year, the diminutive but seriously dynamic 19-year-old wing (he turns 20 two days after the showpiece in two Saturdays’ time) has shown that he can mix it at the highest all-domestic level in his maiden campaign.
Kolbe has contributed three tries thus far, had the honour of being named player-of-the-month for August, and generally proved a serious handful even when starting some of his bamboozling solo offensives in desperately little space.
Quite understandably guilty of some defensive naivety at times, he has nevertheless also made some solid tackles and even been responsible for a few cheeky turnovers against significantly brawnier opponents – not bad for a physical specimen of only 1.70m and still a shade under 80kg.
He is also on the cusp, considering that Province are considered favourites from here to defend their crown, of achieving something that could make veteran team-mates like Jean de Villiers and Schalk Burger go green with envy: lift the trophy at home venue Newlands (something not managed by WP since 2001) in a fairytale, first-season occurrence for him.
That is putting the cart before the horse, as Deon Fourie’s side must first beat both the spirited Lions in Saturday’s semi-final and then potentially also the winners of the Sharks/Cheetahs match-up in Durban.
But if Kolbe did get to experience the bedlam of a Capetonian title triumph, it would certainly cap a memorable year in which he was also a stand-out figure for South Africa in the IRB Junior World Championship.
So what is the next step?
Clearly the plan is for the Kraaifontein-born flyer to make the even more rigorous step up to faster, more physical Super Rugby in 2014.
WP backline coach and former Springbok midfielder Robbie Fleck told Sport24
that Kolbe had been ticking most Currie Cup boxes as an important stepping stone to that scenario, although he was guarded over a swift deployment to the three-nation competition early next year.
"Cheslin’s proved that he can step up, though we have to be careful pushing him too quickly to that competition because obviously the physicality is also on a different level.
"But what he has shown is he’s smart enough to (survive).
"He knows where and when to have a crack, but it’s the other stuff that needs the fine-tuning in preparation for an arena where the guys are again faster, stronger and better technically and tactically.
"He first needed a full Currie Cup, which he’s had now, and then a full pre-season with our Springboks in the ranks and getting into those systems.
"He mentioned to me even after his first (Currie Cup) game that the intensity and pace was at another level from SA under-20s – and the jump from Currie Cup to Super Rugby is also chalk and cheese."
Fleck admitted that Kolbe had taken a fair battering at times during the Currie Cup, with opponents targeting his lack of height and bulk to try to unsettle him.
"He does get targeted, definitely.
"His channel does come under pressure in rival attacks.
"But we always reassure and help him, telling him to keep doing his own good job as an offensive force, and also to realise that if he’s getting special attention from defenders then he’s probably freeing up team-mates.
"People didn’t really know at first how he was going to handle it, but he’s certainly held his own ... you know, surprisingly he’s very, very strong.
"I would say pound for pound he’s probably one of the strongest guys in the side.
"In that sense he’s like (All Black and Hurricanes legend) Christian Cullen, who also wasn’t the biggest – though he was bigger than Cheslin – but extremely strong, and that’s what he’s got.
"He knows he’s got to get a little lower in the tackle, and that it will only get tougher in Super Rugby, but he’s also a very mature guy, humble, and capable of making it. From a bravery side of things, he’s right up there with Gio Aplon."
There is no specific plan, Fleck stressed, to bulk Kolbe up.
"No, it would take some of his key strengths away.
"We’ve learnt in the past that if you try to jump five or six extra kilograms onto a guy with natural ability and speed, you could kill his game – he is what he is."
Fleck also confirmed that the Stormers are in the market for an extra wing, which would help in the process of nursing, rather than too prematurely fast-tracking, Kolbe into Super Rugby combat.
"We don’t want him to immediately have to play 80 minutes of 16 games, or whatever."
Of the 2013 Stormers ranks, they have now surrendered Joe Pietersen, Bryan Habana and will also soon lose to Munster Gerhard van den Heever, who has had an industrious Currie Cup and, at 101kg and 1.90m, would have added handy size to the now reasonably low-staffed back three.
So as things stand, a possible Stormers 2014 trio in those positions would have to be Aplon, Kolbe and Jaco Taute, who is on the mend from serious injury – although emerging inside centre Damian de Allende can also cover wing.
"We are on the search for a fairly experienced winger who can come in and help us out next year," Fleck said.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing