Little & large woo Bok coach

2015-06-01 22:47
Cheslin Kolbe (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Their physical dimensions and rugby roles could hardly be more different ... one a 2.08m, 121kg lock forward and the other a mere 1.71m, 79kg fullback.

But Andries Bekker and Cheslin Kolbe, known game-breakers in their far-apart positional stations, were also two players to feature just a little unexpectedly in key sound-bites by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer at a media briefing at a chilly, windswept Cape Town Stadium here on Monday.

Speaking after a camp training session for an international pre-season squad of players both established and extremely rookie, Meyer indicated that he is interested in the Test comeback claims in this World Cup year of the Japan-based Bekker.

The 31-year-old, currently on the books of the Kobelco Steelers, is in the city at present and the coach said he would be having a one-on-one with him on Tuesday to gauge his interest in and suitability to returning to green-and-gold duty this year.

Bekker played the last of almost nine yeoman seasons of Super Rugby for the Stormers in 2013, and with his peculiarly lanky frame and vulnerability to back problems, among others, switched to the less rigorous environment of the Japanese club scene.

But he never ruled out future Bok aspirations - he has 29 caps - when signing for the Steelers, and in some respects may have rejuvenated himself physically to become an attractive depth option in the Bok second row.

The former Newlands favourite last represented the country against New Zealand at Ellis Park in the 2012 season, Meyer’s first in charge of the Boks, when the All Blacks overturned a halftime deficit to win 32-16.

South Africa have some issues at No 5 lock with luckless young Pieter-Steph du Toit still sidelined and their current expected “main man” there being a 38-year-old in the form of Victor Matfield.

Bekker seems a decent, bridging sort of customer between the pair with his tidy Test experience, while not being overly long in the tooth himself.

He can be a formidable athlete with ball in hand, given his long and surprisingly speedy strides at times in open play, and is a strong lineout factor with the ability to jump at the front, middle and back of the set-piece.

But if Meyer may yet be convinced to go “large” with Bekker at some point in 2015, he was also notably effusive about one of the pocket dynamos of the current Super Rugby scene – slippery Stormers back-three operator Kolbe.

Indeed, he took mention of Kolbe’s name -- the 21-year-old is a participant in the camp -- by a journalist as a spirited opportunity to pooh-pooh the notion that he is somehow prejudiced against “smaller” players.

“There’s a lot of things said about me that aren’t always true,” the national coach smiled. “I’m sometimes surprised by the things I read in the media.

“I’ve always believed that no matter how big or slow you may be or (anything else) it’s about how you perform on the field.

“Cheslin is a world-class game-breaker and I like (them). There are all these perceptions ... but Faf (de Klerk, the in-form Lions scrumhalf, also attending the camp) is also a very small player; his play has gone through the roof recently.

“A guy like Willie (le Roux) ... he’s been awesome for us after people said I wouldn’t pick him.

“I wouldn’t try to change Cheslin; I told him his strength is taking on people one-on-one, his speed and acceleration and (willingness to) go looking for work.

“I said he must go out and enjoy himself (on the park) ... and to work on his restrictions and only improve his strong points. He can be an exceptional player ... good enough to play for the Boks.”

Interestingly, and in a revelation possibly linked to Kolbe, Meyer said that in Super Rugby he “looks a lot at how guys play away from home”.

“Everybody expects you to perform at home, but the (demands) are different and more difficult abroad.”

Kolbe’s thrilling counter-attacking and resolve on defence for the conference-leading Stormers was a feature of one of the best overseas results by a South African team this year, when the Capetonians earned a bonus-point triumph in Sydney over the title-holding Waratahs.

Meyer added, again to Kolbe’s favour: “I am also interested in players who can play in more than one position.”

The Kraaifontein-born prospect, not yet capped at Test level, can be equally at home on the wing as in the last line of defence.

While there are no guarantees Kolbe will make a Bok match-day squad in the immediate future, it seems he has at least appeared more brightly than some may think on Meyer’s radar ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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