What glosses about the propensity of South Africans to scrap hard … Far from these common places, miles away, there is Cheslin Kolbe. A rare player, among Springboks like everywhere else. The smallest template, but one of the greatest assets of South Africa against England. After those of 1995 and 2007, the Sprinboks will aim for a third title in the final of the World Cup, Saturday, November 2 in Yokohama (from 10 am French time).
The winger measures 1.71 m and weighs 80 kg. Advantage or disadvantage? " Both ! "replied the player, one day in May. The world had met him at the headquarters of Stade Toulousain, his club. "When I started rugby, everyone told me that I could never become a professional player, I always took it as a challenge. I have always wanted to use this negative speech to turn it into something positive, to prove that this sport is for everyone. " And not only for players with at least one hundredweight of muscles.
Be careful, Kolbe also has what you need muscles. To resist shocks, of course. Then to accelerate, to divert, to zigzag, also and especially. "Nobody can be a complete player, everyone has to work things", he believes. He logically bet on his velocity to make a place.
The bronze in Rio in 2016
Cheslin Kolbe, 26, started rugby "From the age of 6". But until "Probably 12 years old"he remembers, it is rather the athletics he preferred. A sport where he could already work his speed. Like his cousin, one year his eldest. Except that the latter has continued: since the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Wayde van Niekerk, since it is him, is Olympic champion in the 400m.
The two cousins had crossed in Brazil, from where Cheslin Kolbe had left, him, with a bronze medal. For the occasion, the winger had helped the national rugby team to 7, this Olympic variant playing on the same ground as the quinzistes, but with double dose of space. Ideal for a player like the three-quarter wing.
At the time, Kolbe was still waiting for his first selection with the main team of Springboks, the history, the XV. In November 2016, he participated in the tour in Europe, but without playing. First selection much later, finally: in September 2018, on the decision of the new coach, Johan "Rassie" Erasmus, charged to revive as much as possible a team in full depressed. "I've always kept that dream of wearing the green and gold Springbok jersey one day", now assures the player.
"It's the X factor, everyone knows it, and we'll need it in the face of the English defense. He is a world class player. »Johan« Rassie »Erasmus
However, when he signed at the Stade Toulouse, two years ago, he seemed to have accepted the idea of moving away. In 2017, the South African federation imposed a rule to limit departures to Europe: if a player wanted to apply for the national team while under contract with a European club, he must have already played before thirty games with the Springboks. This was not the case of Kolbe at the time of his signature in Toulouse.
In sports difficulty, Erasmus finally changed the rules. By pragmatism. "He probably wanted to give everyone a chance", suppose the winger. The coach is now expecting a lot from his player: "It's the X factor, everyone knows it, and we'll need it in the face of the English defense. He is a world class player, he has shown it with us, whether on the wing or the back. " Kolbe, however, had a less than ideal World Cup debut: despite two tries in the first round against Italy, he especially passed the semi-final against the Welsh in the stands, a week ago, because of injury at an ankle.
Already the reigning French champion with Toulouse, winner of the Rugby Championship with the "Boks" (against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina), Kolbe is again up for a third trophy this year. Even a fourth, at the margin, since he is among the six nominees for best player of the year 2019.