Dubai – By all means add a bit of bulk ... but be careful not to overdo it.
That is the advice of Springbok 1995 World Cup-winning legend Chester Williams for Cheslin Kolbe, the dynamite in a small package currently balancing his rugby trade between the SA Sevens side and his scheduled participation in the Stormers’ plans for the 2015 Super Rugby season.
Kolbe, who turned 21 in late October, is being used primarily in a “supersub” type of role for the Blitzbokke, who are perhaps mindful that they will soon lose him to XVs duty -- even if he is a perfect fit for an impact role against tiring Sevens defences with his great pace and bamboozling stepping skills.
It was noticeable at last weekend’s Dubai Sevens – eventually won in grand fashion by South Africa --that the diminutive, 1.71-metre Kolbe, who is also one of the lighter players on the South African first-class scene at well below the 80kg mark, has clearly spent some time increasing muscle mass to his upper body.
Williams, who has been helping of late to develop rugby in the relatively infant market of Saudi Arabia, told Sport24 at the event that some aspects of the attacking wunderkind’s gym work made good sense.
“If he’s bulking up it might help him a bit at the contact areas ... but he might also sacrifice a bit of explosive pace and some of (the effectiveness of) his sidestep, so there’s a fine line involved.
“If he bulks up too much it becomes a problem, as you do become prone to injuries if you are carrying (an unnatural amount of) weight on your body.
“Personally I think he’s been doing very well with whatever weight he’s already got.
“Everyone’s concerned about the high ball and yes, he is short, but not that short, and he’s very explosive when it comes to actually getting in the air, under the ball so he can’t get tackled anyway. That area doesn’t worry me.
“He puts in a big effort in the tackle; he doesn’t miss them. He has a good rugby brain, too.”
Acknowledging that Kolbe is a “fine prospect”, Williams says that ideally he should be given another season or two of the hurly-burly of Super Rugby before being considered for any Springbok honours.
Even if there will always be a lobby questioning his physical suitability to the XVs game at the highest levels, Kolbe has been admirably committed as a defender and uses a low centre of gravity to his advantage for elusiveness in his blistering runs, usually from the fullback position.
“Sevens could ideally be his world, you know, but of course Western Province and the Stormers will be so keen to keep developing him for all he offers the XVs game,” said Williams.
“But if Heyneke is looking for a really exciting extra fullback, then he may find himself looking at Cheslin faster than (we think), because there’s nobody else I can think of right now as back-up for the sort of game Willie le Roux gives you.
“I don’t personally believe that trying Johan Goosen in the role is the way to go; he is just not a fullback and he is injury-prone. You might as well try Cheslin there, as he doesn’t have such a catalogue of injuries to his name.”
Kolbe can serve as either a wing or fullback for the Stormers and WP, although Williams believes his attributes are best employed from the No 15 berth.
“I’d like to see him at fullback for the Stormers, where he can create opportunities for them: at wing he’d be too isolated at times.”
Kolbe seems an ideal long-term replacement for the now-departed Gio Aplon in playing style among the Stormers’ back three, and could earn the fullback berth next season if Springbok Jaco Taute, who had some success at No 12 in Province’s trophy-winning Currie Cup campaign, is seen as a possible midfield option now that Bok captain Jean de Villiers will miss all of Super Rugby.
Williams, who coached the Blitzbokke between 2001 and 2003, has no problem with Kolbe flitting between Sevens and the fuller brand of rugby if necessary.
“He knows the WP/Stormers systems already, so adaptation is not required when he gets back into XVs mode soon, perhaps after just one more Sevens tournament (the Port Elizabeth leg this weekend).
“The XVs arena is faster and requires more endurance and hard work these days, so Sevens is a good preparatory thing: guys like myself, Bryan Habana, Christian Cullen and Jonah Lomu came through some Sevens exposure into the XVs game, and it was a very valuable experience.”
*Rob Houwing has been visiting Dubai as a guest of Dubai Tourism