Predatory winger Cheslin Kolbe has underlined his status as one of rugby union’s hottest properties with another scintillating display in South Africa’s 49-3 drubbing of Italy.
The result saw the Springboks, who round up their Pool B campaign against whipping boys Canada, edge ever closer to a place in the quarter-finals.
It was Kolbe who scored the opening try for the Boks, and in eye-catching fashion that sent Friday’s 44,000-plus crowd at Shizuoka’s Ecopa Stadum wild.
Kolbe gathered an early floated miss-pass from Willie Le Roux and found himself in a dead end on his right touchline with seemingly nothing on.
“Take the tackle and go to ground so the ball can be recycled,” would be the automatic thought for the majority of players. But not Kolbe, whose diminutive stature belies the rugby stereotype of bigger is better.
He instead deployed his lightning footwork, the 25-year-old producing a devastating step off his right foot that left opposite number Tommaso Benvenuti grabbing air. Matteo Minozzi moved in to close down the space, but the winger effortlessly glided around the Italian fullback to dot down in the corner.
“It’s exciting times for us outside backs to run with the ball and we look forward to that,” Kolbe said.
“It’s just my body that thinks one way and I just follow it. It’s always exciting to get the ball outside. And I love ball in play, especially in loose play.”
Just 17-3 to the Boks at half-time, the match effectively ceased as a contest after Azzurri prop Andrea Lovotti was red-carded early in the second period for a tip-tackle on Duane Vermeulen that Italy coach Conor O’Shea dubbed “crass stupidity”.
As South Africa turned the screw, Kolbe picked up his second try from a delicate Handre Pollard crossfield kick, picking up nicely to cross the whitewash.
He was also omnipresent in defence, one hammering tackle into touch on Minozzi forcing a pass from the Italian that was intercepted by RG Snyman for another of South Africa’s seven tries.
– Runs in the family –
Kolbe left the field in the final two minutes with an ankle injury, but Boks coach Rassie Erasmus said it was not thought to be serious.
“His ankle’s fine, he rolled it a little bit,” said Erasmus.
“He played a wonderful game both on attack and defence, and aerially, he was just fantastic.
“I think at this stage he must be one of the players in the world with (All Blacks) Sevu Reece and Damian McKenzie, those kind of players who have just got X-factor and can do something out of nothing.
“It’s wonderful to have him in our team.”
The Toulouse winger, cousin of 400m world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk, was also electric for the Springboks in their opening 23-13 loss to New Zealand.
He arguably should have scored two tries against the All Blacks were it not for their excellent scrambling defence, not least from Richie Mo’unga to deny him right in the corner.
Kolbe is positively diminutive for a professional rugby player, standing just 1.72m (5ft 8in) tall and weighing a paltry 80kg (12st 8lb).
To see him being congratulated by his huge Bok teammates after picking up the man-of-the-match award against Italy is surely proof that the sport of rugby union remains open to all shapes and sizes.
The Olympic sevens bronze medallist made his international debut only last year after being previously told he was too small for international 15-a-side rugby. He has since proved to be a thorn in opposition teams’ sides, an immediate threat with ball in hand, his dynamic style of running enabling him to bounce and roll off tackles.
Playing behind a strong Springbok pack and outside proven playmakers such as Pollard and Le Roux, Kolbe looks set to thrive even more as the competition in Japan advances.
“I have to give credit to all the boys for all their hard work and just sticking to the gameplan,” said the jinking pocket-rocket.
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