Cheslin Kolbe: “My Springbok dream is pretty much alive”August 28, 2018
WHEN Cheslin Kolbe left Cape Town for French Top 14 club, Toulouse, at the end of the 2017 Super Rugby season, the Newlands Faithful said goodbye to one of their favourite sons. Not only did Western Province and the Stormers lose one of the few players who is considered to possess x-factor, they lost “someone who fills the stands” as Kolbe has been described by the Toulouse coach, Ugo Mola.
One could hardly blame the uncapped Kolbe for packing for France after it was clear that then Bok coach, Allister Coetzee, never backed him to play at test level. Coetzee selected Kolbe for the Springboks’ tour to Europe and the UK at the end of 2016 but he would only be considered for the (non test) match against the Barbarians and then return home to Cape Town. Quite bizarrely, Coetzee opted to play Jamba Ulengo and Sergeal Petersen on the wings, Jesse Kriel at fullback and Ruan Combrinck as cover on the bench while Kolbe was completely left out of the match day squad and returned home after the match as the rest of the party continued the tour.
However, the 24-year-old became an instant fan favourite at Toulouse and impressed all in sundry in his debut season in the French Top 14. In fact, he made such an impact that he was judged to be the best foreign import in the Top 14 by the French media in 2017. “It was a tough decision (leaving Cape Town) to make last year, but it was a decision which I had to make and give it my all. Everyone at the club and all the fans have welcomed me and my family with open arms and we’re loving it over here,” Kolbe said in a telephonic interview with fiekie7.co.za.
It is evident from highlight packages that Kolbe is enjoying running with the ball again and it seems that he has been given the freedom to express himself with ball in hand. “As with every team there are certain structures and game plans to follow but the coach has given myself and a few others license to play the situation as we see it and I enjoy that kind of freedom to play my natural attacking game.”, the Kraaifontein born said.
It is no secret that the pocket rocket prefers playing at fullback but it has been mainly on the wing where Mola has used him at Toulouse. “I played on the wing mostly last season but I slot in at 15 when I’m needed there. I enjoy both positions and I just want to be happy and enjoy my rugby – whether it’s at 11, 14 or fullback,” he said.
Some pundits, most notably former Bok coach Nick Mallet, have even suggested that Kolbe play scrumhalf as his 75kg 1,72m frame is supposedly suited for the number 9 position. “I have been facing critics about my size since I started my senior career. I don’t believe in size and weight but rather in a positive mindset towards the game. I’ve played all my senior rugby at fullback and wing and that is where I am comfortable. I’m more than happy to fill in at scrumhalf if and when the team needs me there. I’ve trained at 9 once or twice at Toulouse just to give the team an extra option but that does not mean it’s my preferred position,” Kolbe, who won an Olympic bronze medal with the Blitzboks at Rio 2016, said.
When asked about his Springbok ambitions and whether Rassie Erasmus had been in contact with him since taking over the Bok coaching duties from Coetzee, Kolbe said that he’ll keep doing his best for Toulouse and hope that his performances will be noticed. “I haven’t spoken to Coach Rassie at all since he’s taken over at the Springboks. Yes, there will always be that fire and the dream to play for my country and don that green and gold jersey is pretty much alive,” he enthusiastically answered.
With Warrick Gelant out injured and the question marks around Willie le Roux’s availability for the back end of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, who knows, Kolbe might just get that long awaited phone call from a certain Mr Johan Erasmus…