Rassie Erasmus will need to be calculated in the way he deploys Cheslin Kolbe as an X-factor weapon in the Springboks’ arsenal, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
At the beginning of last week, a video was posted on YouTube showcasing Kolbe setting up a superb try for Toulouse with a swerving run that made it look as if he were skating on ice.
For many overseas-based players who can fall out of sight and out of mind, it was as if Kolbe was shouting: ‘Hey, remember me!’
Five days later, Kolbe was the surprise inclusion in the Springboks’ squad for the Australasian leg of the Rugby Championship.
Setting up one try against Lyon would not have been the make-or-break factor in Kolbe’s call-up to the Boks, but it’s that ability to create a little bit of magic from nothing that surely would have convinced Erasmus to make a rather left-field inclusion.
Since the start of the international season, Kolbe’s name hasn’t really come up in selection conversation. Willie le Roux has been the first-choice fullback, with Warrick Gelant providing another option in the June Test series against England, while Damian Willemse has been spoken of in that context at the start of the Rugby Championship.
Yet out of the blue pops Kolbe.
The former Stormers pocket rocket had always fit rather obscurely into a South African rugby environment where his brilliance with ball in hand was often counter-balanced with claims that he was too small and too much of a liability on defence to make the step up to Test level.
For one, former Springbok coach Nick Mallett remained an outspoken advocate of Kolbe considering making a transition to scrumhalf if he hoped to kickstart a Test career.
Instead, the 24-year-old found a home in French rugby, with a family that is more captivated by flair than physical dimensions. By the end of last year, Kolbe was being widely hailed as the best signing in French rugby.
Overlooked by other Bok coaches, Erasmus has again stuck to his mantra of making brave selections by offering Kolbe a look-in.
It’s worth noting that it’s very rare for a player to be roped in from overseas just to form part of the wider squad, and so logic suggests that Kolbe will be set to make his Springbok debut sooner rather than later.
What will be interesting to see is just what sort of role is envisioned for the diminutive flyer, who has been labelled as an ‘outside back’ in reference to his ability to cover both wing and fullback.
His inclusion also comes at a time when the Boks have spoken of a ‘win at all costs’ mentality as they head into away matches against the Wallabies and All Blacks, who also boast some big men in the back three.
There’s no doubt that Kolbe’s attacking attributes are best suited to a game situation where his side has established physical ascendancy and go-forward ball to allow for such playmakers to operate off a solid foundation up front.
It’s the sort of luxury that the All Blacks have mostly enjoyed, with their relentless phase play suffocating the energy out of opposition, before they deploy someone like the fast-stepping Damian McKenzie to wreak havoc. In many regards, Kolbe is a player with similar attributes.
It would be a massive call to thrust Kolbe out of the wilderness and into a starting role in Brisbane or Wellington, but he is the sort of X-factor magician who could certainly cause chaos in an impact role off the bench when circumstances are suited.
One also thinks of how the Boks produced a performance of immense work rate and physicality against the All Blacks at Newlands last year. It’s the sort of effort they will want to replicate when they face rematches against Australia and New Zealand in South Africa, and where Kolbe could be best served with a starting berth.
Ultimately, Kolbe’s call-up is an intriguing and exciting selection in a Springbok side that could undoubtedly use a little magic dust in the backline. It’s now up to the Bok coaches to harness his talents in the position and game circumstances that allow him to be most effective.
Photo: Manuel Blondeau/Getty Images
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