Load Kolbe and pull the trigger!

Devin Hermanus

Diminutive. Lightweight. Pint-sized. Just three adjectives, or rather negatives, often used to describe the 1.72m, sub-80kg Cheslin Kolbe.

His selection for the Springboks’ Test against the Wallabies in Brisbane this weekend was long overdue for a talented outside back whose size shouldn’t preclude him from Test rugby.

As highlighted in this tribute, Kolbe has been as sensational at Toulouse as he was for the Blitzboks, Stormers and Western Province, and the French media recently hailed the 24-year-old from Kraaifontein as the best foreign import in the Top 14.

Bok coach Rassie Erasmus’ selection of Kolbe for his team’s Australasian leg of the Rugby Championship is a thumb in the eye for SA coaches who’ve considered smaller outside backs like Kolbe, Breyton Paulse and Gio Aplon as physical liabilities instead of assets.

Erasmus has tipped Kolbe to make an impact for the Boks off the bench at fullback or wing, and his fresh legs and quick feet should prove troublesome for tiring tacklers regardless of their size. Sound familiar? Brent Russell, the original “Pocket Rocket”, put the “S” in super-sub and his explosive speed, low centre of gravity and lethal sidestep made a mockery of the best defensive structures.

At Rudolf Straeuli’s Bok trials in 2002, Russell came on and delivered an explosive second-half performance at flyhalf to show the then-national boss why he could be as much a force in 15s as he had been in Sevens. The former Sharks and Pumas speedster scored eight tries for the Boks in 23 Tests between 2002 and 2006, but he started only seven.

Russell made four appearances at flyhalf, eight at fullback, 10 at wing and one at centre for the Boks. His brief career in the green-and-gold jersey has been attributed to this versatility and local coaches’ obsession with size.

There’s a concern that Kolbe’s Test career may similarly stutter due to similar prejudice and, like Russell, he has been told by coaches like ex-Bok boss Nick Mallett that he should switch to scrumhalf.

However, Kolbe is a strong kicker, resilient and he has a masochistic approach to been manhandled by bigger rivals – attributes that make him ideally suited to flyhalf.

He is physically similar in stature to All Blacks playmaker Damian McKenzie (1.75m/81kg), who regularly flicks between flyhalf, fullback and wing for the world champions with the unequivocal support of Kiwi coach Steve Hansen.

Ex-Bok No 10 André Pretorius occasionally moved to fullback to accommodate Russell at pivot, which would also leave Straeuli with other backline options. Erasmus could similarly switch Handré Pollard or Damian Willemse from No 10 to inside centre/fullback respectively for Kolbe, who couldn’t do much worse than the defensively suspect Elton Jantjies in the flyhalf channel.

By calling up Kolbe, Erasmus has won a victory for “the little guy” in SA rugby but he must aim the Boks’ new mini-RPG with more accuracy than his predecessors displayed with the prototype.

FRESH TAKE is an initiative to identify, feature and develop talented rugby writers who are not yet part of the mainstream media. If that sounds like you, send us a sample of a story you’d like to write to info@alloutrugby.com

Devin Hermanus works in the SA media industry, does fasted cardio before hitting up a breakfast buffet, and makes an award-winning cameo as an unnamed journo in the “All or Nothing: New Zealand All Blacks” mini-series.

Follow Devin: @DevinMyles11

- Devin Hermanus

Let's chat

  • SweetAz

    Well I just watched the Boks play some of the most uninspired downright crap rugby I have ever had the misfortune to waste 80 minutes of my life for. I watched the AB’s convert their chances bang bang against a good Puma team and then I watched a bunch of stupid people doing the same shit over and over and over again. Sorry Bokkies, I think I’ve had enough, 7th is about where you belong,—–on a good day. I live in NZ, so many expats come here and support the AB’s, but no, I still have fond memories of Ray Mordt, Danie Gerber, Carel Du Plessis, Andre Joubert etc,—people who could actually play rugby so I support the Boks.

    I’m getting tired of supporting memories, perhaps its time to close that chapter and finally admit the Boks are dead. I can start by slowly saying nice things about the AB’s and then in a year or two I can buy myself a black jersey and a silver fern sticker for my car. And in another year or two, I can stop crying and start laughing at the Boks,—just like everybody else does.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Got to agree the Boks and the coach are simply abysmal. No way back for them. Cheers.

  • Herman Schroder?

    Devin I have just watched the Boks game and I’m not blaming him here but Kolbe did nothing that some of our local wings and fullbacks have not themselves done, some of them even better. In fact add Willie and to a lesser degree Faf, throw in Flo Louw as well and our contingent of overseas ”superstars, lol ” have done very little to warrant their inclusion. All they’ve done is take away team building and game time from our local fringe players. Cheers.

    • Dr Hoffman

      Couldnt agree more, Cheslin looked so out of his depth against oz and the rest of the oversee’s guys add nothing. I dont know why we keep picking these guys from average leagues in Europe it only encourages young talent to leave SA cause they still have a chance to be picked for the boks.

    • Maxwell

      Herman. If you are a wing you need to get it from the inside. How can you blame Colby. Firstly the coach needs to blame because Faf did what he was told. Then an experienced Willie dropping the ball not once not twice but three times. Allister was right in saying Rassie is overrated coach. The man have all the tools and surpport and he fails with distinctions. I agree with you on selecting and sticking with local talent but then the talent shouldnt use SArugby to get their foot into Europe.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Maxwell thanks for that but I did say I wasn’t blaming him. Local players like Djantyi in particular pop up on the other wing at times to contribute as well as display individual brilliance to manufacture tries out of nothing. Twinkle toes can only take you so far imo.

        Yes I agree on Rassie I think he has been well and truly found out. I also agree players can’t have it both ways, if you go overseas then it’s adios forever unless they come back and prove themselves again in SR before being considered. Occasionally flying in for a test match at the behest of their owners overseas is simply not on. Cheers.

        • Greg Shark

          what would the Boks do to have a James Small who would pop up all over the park….?

      • Barry Smith

        It is true that wings, to a large degree, are reliant on feed to perform, but if we are to be honest, Mapimpi’s 30 odd minutes look considerably more threatening than anything Kolbe dished up for the remaining 50! So I would have to go with Herman on that one. It is likely that Erasmus had him pencilled in at 15 and the early injury forced his hand, but even so, there was not much that knocked my socks off!

  • Barry Smith

    There is much chirp in other forums regards the composition of the team in other forums. How the team was made up of 50 % Stormers players, whilst their form in Super Rugby was abysmal! I do not want to encourage Herman in any way, but really there is some merit in these views! Four Lions and One Shark, does not really reflect our Super Rugby form. No disrespect to Province in any way, we all have difficult seasons, but national honours should be merit based!

    • Dr Hoffman

      1000%! The problem is not just colour quotas it is WP and bulls quotas! SARU does rent office space at newlands though, so its probably part of the rental agreement.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Thanks for the ‘encouragement’ lol but I’m glad you tend to agree with me. The problem with the players playing in the failed Franchises, specifically the Stormers and Bulls and to a lesser extent the Sharks, is their state of mind. When you win one out of every three games you play and then turn up in the Bok team who also get pummeled by all and sundry then a loser mentality simply must kick in. Yes merit based on sound form and mental strength should be the minimum criteria for selection. Cheers.

      • Greg Shark

        the problem, hermie, is that without fail the biggest mouths shout loudest from Gauteng….and when they get their way and the ‘heroes’ play (“…merit based on sound form and mental strength should be the minimum criteria….”… maybe ‘sound form’ and ‘mental strength’ should be more clearly defined?) …….they don’t step up the results stay away….nothing changes….there is a smattering of reasonably good players from most franchises, its a question of moulding them into a TEAM with one common theme….I do agree, however, that there is too much reliance on stormers players
        A question for Barry – which other lions players deserve Bok selection? as a team they get to a SR final and implode…..certain players in the centre get regularly demanded of a Bok place but show very little even in SR….

        • Dr Hoffman

          They didnt implode?? huh? U should stay sober for the game next time. But your logic is awesome, rather pick the players from the teams that showed no form that finished in the bottom of the table rather than picking the guys who lost in the final? duh! double duh!

        • Herman Schroder?

          The problem is you pin too much on the fact they didn’t win the SR final. They beat the full Argie team ( who beat the Boks ) and the Waratahs who had ten players playing against NZ and then a Crusaders team with 13 AB’s in their squad. In the final they gave as good as they got despite the loss and in NZ where no one wins anyway. Even the NZ commentators said they were worthy finalists.

          Now tell me which players have gone through the mill and which players have thrown in the towel early in the competition losing repeatedly in the process ? The belief amongst the Lions players is what gets them through something sadly lacking in the other teams even some of their so called superstars. They’ve also proved it in chunks over the past three years.

          Which players would I choose ?. Well that will depend on Rassies still to be unveiled game plan. Even he does not know what it is after seven tests so how can the players know. Jantjies was playing well within himself on Saturday obviously under instruction. Andries Coetzee should be playing he has solidity and can play expansively in the right game plan. Those fancy props everybody has been raving about couldn’t even master a woeful Aussie pack. Dreyer and van Rooyen get pushed around by no one including an AB loaded Crusaders pack. Kwagga Smith if you are wanting smarts in your loose trio, not one dimensional plodders. Ross Cronje for dependability and smarts, Mapoe and Vorster for intelligent attacking and linking. I could go on and on but most importantly they have the strength of mind and a refusal to give up built into their psyche.

          Rassie like AC before him has cocked up royally here. As one columnist has pointed out he has painted himself into a corner. So no matter who one wishes to see in the Bok team which under Rassie will undoubtedly remain in dom krag mode. If he leaves all the Lions players out I won’t shed a tear believe me. Let the expansive game challenged coach and the players with their intrinsic lack of skill and vision play from now on but heaven help us. Cheers.

          • Dr Hoffman

            would be awesome if he left out all the lions, then they could organise a game Lions vs boks. The Lions would smash them! 20 plus points.

        • Barry Smith

          Well to try and stay on article, why was there a need to call on Kolbe from overseas when you have Skosan with 3 caps already and Mvovo with 17 Caps that was sent home without a game? I could go on, but the subject is Kolbe! So how did this happen, well the answer is Zwandile Stick. He doesn’t really have a 15’s coaching background, so he tries to put a 7’s spin on things!

          • Chris Mouton

            Okay, I’m also going to try to stay on article. Kolbe’s selection wasn’t warranted at all. He added no value whatsoever to the team. Mapimpi actually looked dangerous and defended well as well. Guys like Skosan, Mvovo and Combrinck would’ve made more sense than Kolbe. That being said, the Springboks need a proper backline coach. Jantjies and Kriel both kicked the ball away while their team mates were screaming for the ball, because of the huge overlaps. We need better decision making.

            It also worries me that we have no decent scrumhalf to back up Faf. The Bokke should’ve won on Saturday, as Australia was ripe for the picking without Pocock and Folau. Instead they played like bumbling idiots. That “loaded bench” made no difference to the game. Anyways,, I’m going off-topic now. Kolbe should take the next flight home. He’s wasting space and is a club player at best.

  • Gerhard Coetzee

    It is extremely disappointing after so many years now and all the coaches that tried to turn the ship around that we are still not making progress.We will have to get n full All BLacks coaching team to turn this ship around and let us just face it,no South African Coach will be able to do it because of lack of skills.Rassie fell into the very same trap as Allister Coetzee and we have still not learned that you have to surround yourself with the best to make it work.I think that the difference is that our coaches are to arrogant and think that they know everything,but let me tell tell that they do not have a clue! New Zealand and overseas coaches are far more skilled and they do not think that they now it all even their best coaches and they are always researching and listen to others.You try and talk to our coaches and they won’r listen because the think they know it all ! I am sorry but I just had to get this off my chest .Look art how much inexperience coaches do we sit in our national team ?
    Saturday there was no plan A nor a Plan B. I cannot believe that we say we want a good start and what does Faff do,he kicks the first ball with now wing or player even trying to put the catcher under pressure and from that move the Wallabies first try was scored ! Have we not learned after so many years that we have tried this ,it does not work if you do not put the cather under pressure.It dioes work for other teams because they understand the concept.
    We kept on playing in our half with the same players move over and over again with no real results.We also not know how to close a game out when it is a close score near the end of the game.I get thee feeling the players decide how they want to play and we know thee result,no strategy !!
    Let me not get into lack of players skills !
    I am afraid we will still be in tthe same boat for years to come !! .

  • Matt

    I don’t know, maybe I watched another SR competition the past year, but honestly, I didn’t see anything haven’t seen from our our teams throughout the season.

    And yes, the Lions did well. But then, as has been evidenced throughout the last 3 seasons, they unfortunately themselves, fail to make that step up when it matters most during their SR campaigns, so why is there any surprise that they struggle to make the step up to test match rugby?

    Let’s really be honest here. We do not have an national team available of international standard available to pick from. Throughout SR our entire player pool is regularly shown up to have weaknesses, and significant one’s at that. We have a serious problem at development and talent nurturing at youth lvls and it is really showing.

    It was 11 years ago when where we are now was predicted, and eerily accurately too, as the situation slowly unfolded with each passing year. We got proper warning right from then when Jake White left the national level and at SR lvls we got Ludeke and company into the headcoaching roles at the various franchises.

    Properly coached youth should be the norm, not an exception. Our school boy rugga is abyssmal, let’s stop lying to ourselves about it. We may have ‘numbers’ in our grassroots. But we do not have a nearly high enough density of properly coached talent at these lvls to ensure a talent pool deep enough to secure success beyond school boy lvl competition, and that there lies the real problem.

    When the players deemed to be our best are the making the basic school boy lvl errors like what we see now, the problem goes beyond anything happening at national lvl and plan A vs plan B discussions really need to be thrown out the window, as clearly, when its about silly mistakes as we saw, knock-ons, bad throw in, poor kicking etc etc… no gameplan is ever going to prove the solution.

  • Maxwell

    We really need to look at the mental state of our players. Our boys need a motivator as a coach and rollmodels to guide them in becoming the quality player needed to a test and test only. Unfortunately our best coaches (were Motivators and mentors for the current Springboks ) and players (” could have been Bok legends” but now only ex Bok players) abandoned the ship that made them what their are and are running from continent to continent to cash in and then expects to play in the worldcup next year. This is a big problem and needs to be addressed ASAP. Rassie should forget about the worldcup and concentrate to win a test.

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