Every now and then a player comes along that transcends the ordinary, a player who when he gets ball makes you shuffle towards the edge of the seat, makes you draw breath sharply for that split second, and even before they have done anything your pulse begins to quicken.
Interestingly these players tend to be small of stature, which in the modern game where size is everything, makes the wonder of this rare species even more exhilarating.
Gerald Davies, Shane Williams, Jason Robinson all had these qualities and an ability to excite, they even made the hagggered hacks in the press box feel a tingle down the spine, something that years of written deadlines had all but extinguished.
These players are now all retired but their legacy lives on in the the shape, flair and raw speed of Cheslin Kolbe, all 5ft 7 and 11st 9lbs of him.
A few eyebrows were raised when Springbok coach, Rassie Erasmus, called up Cheslin Kolbe for last year’s Rugby Championship.
Regarded by many rugby pundits as “too small” for test rugby, it had been a case of “out of mind, out of sight” for the former Western Province and Stormers flyer after he had joined French club Toulouse in 2017.
like so many occasions previously, Kolbe proved people wrong, he took to Test rugby like a Bok to water. He made his debut in Brisbane against Australia, replacing Makazole Mapimpi in the 33rd minute, and scored his first test try a week later against the All Blacks, after intercepting an Anton Lienert-Brown pass in the Boks’ famous 36-34 win in Wellington.
“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 mind-set towards the game,” .
Twitter and Instagram have been awash with videos of the former Blitzbok ripping defences apart in the Top 14 for Toulouse, where he has become a cult-hero, the fans love him and Kolbe and his young family have settled down well in the south of France.
“My wife Layla and 2-year-old daughter Kylah are well settled in and loving life in Toulouse. I always say to people that to me Toulouse is similar to Cape Town, the only difference is that you don’t have all your family around, but the lifestyle and people are fantastic.
The 2019 European Player of the Year nominee says he loved his introduction to test rugby in 2018.
“Last year was a dream come true for me. Being called up to the Springboks and making my test debut is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I’ve learned so much as a player in the time I’ve been a part of the Boks, and I’ll keep on learning. I had the best time with the brothers, it’s really a good team culture and atmosphere. No egos.”
Born in Kraaifontein, a suburb of Cape Town, he is the cousin of South African athletics star Wayde Van Niekerk, who won gold at the 2016 Olympics, so there is some gas in those genes.
He now has his sights set on the Rugby World Cup. “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. Definitely giving everything I have to be part of the 2019 RWC in Japan and will just play the best rugby I can.”
Kolbe’s versatility, he is happy to play at fullback wing, can count in his favour come RWC selection time. “I’m comfortable and having fun at both wing and fullback. To me it’s a similar job. At fullback you have more time on the ball and have to make clever decisions from the back. So I’m happy to play either of the two as long as I can add great value to the team and that my performance will be to a great benefit for the team,” he concluded.
Nine days ago he won the Top 14 title in Paris with Toulouse, the “Lightning Bug” as he is nicknamed, may be small but I predict he will be big in Japan come the Rugby World Cup.