Rugby Championship

Boks: Cheslin's in it for the long haul!

2019-07-29 16:33
Cheslin Kolbe
Cheslin Kolbe (Getty Images)

Cape Town - Isn't it time to bury for good now the notion - long held, by some - that Cheslin Kolbe is simply too small for international rugby?

The Springbok pocket rocket from Kraaifontein keeping New Zealand's explosive, 103kg Rieko Ioane so firmly in check - not to mention providing plenty of counter-bother in their one-on-one scrap at wing - was one of the defining aspects of Saturday's tense 16-16 draw in Wellington.

No less influential in the result, of course, was Kolbe's intelligent, observant contribution to the dramatic late, levelling converted try by Herschel Jantjies: his in-field kick after a trademark, elusive personal scurry down the line teed up the reserve scrumhalf’s collection of the ball for his dot-down, seconds ahead of the closing siren.

It was the crowning moment of the Brackenfell High School product's status, almost beyond doubt, as premier Bok performer in the Cake Tin, and also his best own showing in four Bok starts since last year.

If you can wow against the world champions in one of their strongholds, then few other obstacles can ever look too daunting, can they?

Kolbe has eight green-and-gold appearances in total, and digging himself in at a sprightly rate of knots ... and that despite the taxing fact that five of those caps have come against South Africa's oldest and fiercest southern-hemisphere foes, New Zealand (three) and Australia (two).

In short, there haven't been too many rank easy-beats yet on his Test list; keep in mind also that those two countries habitually don't lack muscle and height among their back-three personnel, which ought to make life especially unfavourable to someone like the vertically-challenged (1.72m) and sub-80kg Kolbe.

Frankly, though, the hoary old "Kolbe's too little" goat has increasingly lost its lustre through the weight - yes, that word is used quite deliberately - of the pocket battleship's showings, both in playing capability and unerringly raw courage and commitment.

Far bigger Bok physical specimens have, for example, been the proverbial turnstiles on defence at times, yet strangely escaped the sort of zealous scrutiny Kolbe's game gets on that specific front.

Especially reflective of his tenacity and durability is that the 25-year-old has now started two matches against the All Blacks without being remotely shown to be a fish out of water, and also had a fulsome contribution in another (when he played the full second half of last year's equivalent Wellingtonian-staged tussle from the bench and his opportunism and stealth were like gold in the dramatic, famous 36-34 victory).

Kolbe now sports two tries from those three NZ matches, too, and a record of one win, a stalemate and that barely deserved late Loftus surrender (32-30) toward the end of last season.

That is hardly the stuff of someone who doesn't belong in combat against the long-time best there are on the planet.

The more streetwise he gets, the more adept Kolbe has become at finding ways and means - compensating for his physical challenges - of both getting past seemingly impenetrable foes or of stopping them in their tracks when they are steaming toward him with ball in hand.

Kolbe has the guts (that is surely, comprehensively proven by now?) to meet attackers front-on when absolutely necessary, but, just as importantly, he is increasingly good at returning to his feet with unreal speed if "half beaten" and making a suitably halting challenge, even if in unorthodox manner, to a runaway marauder anyway.

Actually advantaged in some ways by his lack of height, the Toulouse-based former Newlands icon is as competent as most backline colleagues, too, at sniffing out and successfully executing turnover opportunities at the breakdown.

His bamboozling stepping ability and scything runs as an attacker always a premier aspect of his broad armoury - not to mention a consistent gift for reading play and anticipating threats - Kolbe is perhaps closer than some observers may think to status as the Springboks' most valuable player in back-three terms.

Certainly head coach Rassie Erasmus must be well aware that the player could be just as comfortably deployed at left wing or fullback as he has been in his most recent stationing as the No 14.

On present form, he just looks too electric a factor to be left outside a Springbok match-day 23, and is pushing ever more forcefully to keep running out at the start.

This is his seventh year of first-class rugby activity and credit must go to Erasmus (in his maiden season as mastermind) for finally giving Kolbe his opportunity at Test level in 2018.

Considering that someone like similarly mercurial Willie le Roux is about to turn 30, Kolbe looks a more attractive prospect for another full World Cup cycle to 2023 - at least - and plenty of international activity in the interim.

Cheslin Kolbe: RWC 2019 excitement machine.

I wouldn't write off that likelihood, myself ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rwc 2019  |  cheslin kolbe  |  rugby

 

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