Mon, 27 May 2019

Paris - In a sport where size is increasingly valued as a prime asset, one South African pocket-rocket plying his trade for Toulouse has bucked that trend to become arguably the most dynamic player in European rugby.

Cheslin Kolbe stands just 1.71m (5ft 7in) tall and weighs under 80kg, but has been one of the star performers in the Top 14 and European Champions Cup this season.

What the seven-time capped Springbok utility back lacks in physical stature is more than made up by his attacking flair and speed, which have transformed him into something of a cult hero in southwestern France.

Kolbe, cousin of world and Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk, displayed all his talent when scoring a memorable try in Toulouse's humdinger of a victory over Clermont last weekend.

Receiving the ball on the left wing in an innocuous position, Kolbe slipped as he stepped back in. Rebounding to his feet, poise regained, he exploded through the defence, beating five defenders as he raced away to touch down.

"Cheslin is unbelievable," Toulouse's Scottish lock Richie Gray said.

"He can make something out of nothing - it's silly stuff and you can't believe it's possible.

"You can't touch him in training; you just try to tackle his shadow and that is the best you can do!"

Kolbe will line up for Toulouse against Leinster in Sunday's European Champions Cup semi-final, leading the competition in defenders beaten with 45.

Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll tweeted along with a flaming emoji.

Leinster centre Garry Ringrose said the Irish side were well aware of what the French team had to offer, having faced them twice in the pool phase, losing 28-27 in France in October, but winning 29-13 in Dublin in January.

"We saw in the pool phase that Toulouse are a very difficult team to beat," Ringrose said.

"They have a lot of experience in this competition and are dangerous in all positions. All the team are playing well, but we have to keep an eye out for Kolbe, who has scored some incredible tries this season."

Kolbe, born in the tough Cape Town suburb of Kraaifontein, insisted size was never an issue for him even though he was overlooked by the Springboks after five seasons with the Stormers.

"Everyone is quite obsessed with size back home, everyone wants to be bigger than the next person," Kolbe told Rugby Pass.com.

"I don't believe that's the way forward. Why do you have to be 90kg, 100kg to make it? I believe this game has a place for each and every player if they have the right attitude and mindset."

Kolbe, who won Olympic rugby sevens bronze with South Africa in Rio in 2016, added: "I had a lot of arguments about being too small for professional rugby. People told me I would never make it, and to me, that was just an opportunity, it just excited me to prove people wrong."

Turning to Sunday's mouth-watering match, Kolbe acknowledged that the Irish province are "a well-coached, very structured team".

"Whether I'm around the ruck, or in broken field, the coaches want me to get as much ball in my hands as I can, go and look for work and make something from nothing. It's great to know you have that freedom to play because sometimes you can be put into a box where you are told, 'Just do this, just do that'."

His run of form will surely see him feature in Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus' planning for this year's Rugby World Cup in Japan, Kolbe having made his debut last year.

"We are blessed with lots of quality outside backs in South Africa and I see that as a positive for all of us, because that keeps us all on our toes and can just improve each and everyone's game," Kolbe told fiekie7.co.za.

"Definitely giving everything I have to be part of the 2019 RWC in Japan and will just play the best rugby I can."

Sign up for France News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!