Sunday 26 May 2019

Toulouse's Kolbe has pep in step

Van Niekerk is a cousin of Olympic 400m champion

Toulouse’s Cheslin Kolbe is tackled by Wasps’ Ben Harris (bottom) and Willie le Roux during their Champions Cup clash at Ricoh Arena last month
Toulouse’s Cheslin Kolbe is tackled by Wasps’ Ben Harris (bottom) and Willie le Roux during their Champions Cup clash at Ricoh Arena last month

"You would pay money to see Kolbe and Jordan Larmour on the same field, wouldn't you?"

This throwaway line at the conclusion of Stuart Lancaster's media responsibility on Monday set the tone for the most explosive individual one-on-one in Europe this weekend.

The South Africa wing has set the global game on fire from his interventions for the Springboks in The Rugby Championship to his outrageous stop-start, acceleration and here-there darting movement for Toulouse in the Top-14 and in the Champions Cup.

Even the experienced Englishman was unable to nail down a description of the wing wizard.


"Pff, where do you want to start?" he asked. "I mean I've seen him run around people, dodge around people and then I saw him score another try where he actually ran through the 10, just ran over him.

"I mean you think he doesn't look huge but he ran through the middle of a ruck the other day, and yeah he's got incredible feet."

There is a lot to back up the theory that genetics provides a man-made advantage for those lucky enough to inherit natural gifts.

Cheslin Kolbe is a cousin to South Africa's sprint sensation Wayde van Niekerk, the 400 metres world record holder and 2016 Olympic champion.

Van Niekerk even managed to break Michael Johnson's 43.03 mark and is the only man to break 10 seconds for 100m, 20 seconds for 200m and 44 seconds for the 400m, an achievement that must put him in the conversation of the best athlete in the world.

During the Olympics in Rio, Van Nierkerk's cousin Kolbe, from the same town of Kraaifontein, Cape Town, was busy winning a bronze medal in the rugby Sevens.

The cousins, one year apart, are very close friends and even played rugby on the same school team at Belville Primary in Capoe Town, before Van Niekerk decamped for Bloemfontein and the famed Grey College.

"Wayde was the fast one all the years and we needed to make sure we got the ball to him, and then he just needed to run," Kolbe recalled in an interview.

"I started out in athletics and only fell in love with rugby at a later stage."

The athletic gene was not exactly absent from Kolbe and the blend of speed and blurring footwork have made the Springbok a global superstar of the game.

"I did the 100 metres and, funnily enough, despite my height, I also did the short (110m) hurdles and participated at the South African schools championships," he said.

"I decided to focus on rugby when the hurdles outgrew me, and at the end of the day, I made peace with it."

The distant cousins follow each other's paths very closely and are more like brothers.

Imagine, Van Niekerk has even been mistaken for Kolbe, not the other way around, such is the profile of rugby in their homeland.

"It has really been massive for him, the last few years," said van Niekerk. "It excites me every single time I get to see what he does on the sports field.

"I find so much inspiration in what he's done. I actually show-off quite a lot with his name.

"I have people coming up to me, teasing me about rugby. All I need to say is, 'cheers, that is my cousin,' and they are quiet.

"Then, I've won the (verbal) battle."

Leinster were well-advised to strap a blue scrum cap to the head of a Tadhg Beirne lookalike leading up to the Munster Interpro.

The same approach to dealing with Kolbe would be the best preparation - give even the soundest defenders.

The problem is the only Blue capable of doing a passable impression of Kolbe is the man most likely to start on Leinster's wing.

"You know it is going to be all hands on deck when he has the ball," said Larmour.

"I suppose we are slightly similar in some aspects, but there are some differences.

"He is pretty good off both feet.

Small gap

"He is quick. If there is a small gap, he will go through.

"He seems to embarrass defenders. You know he is going to be a tough man to stop when he gets going or gets in space.

"We are all going to have to be switched on."

Or, Kolbe could turn the lights out on Leinster.

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