The Rugby World Cup might not have been as perfect as South Africa would have wanted, but there have been plenty of positives to come out of the tournament so far.
Perhaps one of the biggest has been the form of winger Cheslin Kolbe. The 25-year old has burst on the international scene since making his Springboks debut last year, but his performance against Italy showed that South Africa may well have world rugby’s next big star in their ranks. While easy comparisons have been made between Kolbe and Bryan Habana, the fact is that the Toulouse man is like something we haven’t seen before – or at least for a long time.
At just 5ft 7in, Kolbe is much shorter than Habana, who was six foot. While both were blessed with raw pace, the way Kolbe plays is much more similar to that of former England speedster Jason Robinson, who enjoyed huge success despite being just 5ft 8in. Great strength from his 12 and a half stone frame, explosive pace and rapid footwork are what gives Kolbe his advantages, and that was evident during South Africa’s encouraging Pool B win over Italy that left the Springboks with one foot in the quarter-finals.
While Kolbe finished with two tries to his name, coming close to recording a hat-trick late on, it was an ankle issue that was giving South Africa fans cause for concern following the Italy game. The Springboks management were quick to play down any worry, though, with Kolbe expected to be fine for the rest of the tournament. At around 4/1 with the latest rugby union betting to win the World Cup, South Africa can ill afford to lose a player as influential as Kolbe, and there may be a temptation to rest the winger until the quarter-final stages.
Having taken his test record to seven tries in 12 tests with his brace against Italy, Kolbe was forced from the field late in the game after twisting his ankle. An x-ray came back all clear and the winger was spotted walking normally the following day. With so many games in such a short space of time, South Africa will know Kolbe could well be crucial later on in the tournament so won’t want to risk any of their key players. Their two wingers are certainly among this team’s most important.
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With fellow wing Makazole Mapimpi recording his 11th try in 11 tests against Italy, the Springboks’ prolific wingers may well be key to South Africa’s hopes of reaching the final and potentially even winning the tournament. While the group defeat to New Zealand was a blow and a sign there is still a distance between themselves and the very best, the way South Africa have responded since that loss has been particularly encouraging.
For Kolbe, as long as he can avoid injury between now and the end of the tournament, the stage is set for him to really establish himself as one of the new stars of world rugby.