British & Irish Lions

Springbok Cheslin Kolbe relishing 'unbelievable' Van der Merwe Lions challenge

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Cheslin Kolbe for Toulouse (Getty Images)
Cheslin Kolbe for Toulouse (Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe, fresh from winning the French Top 14 title with Toulouse, says he is relishing the prospect of facing the British and Irish Lions' "unbelievable" Duhan van der Merwe.

READ | Cheslin Kolbe kicks 50m drop goal as Toulouse win French Top 14

Kolbe's club claimed a league and European double by beating La Rochelle 18-8 at the Stade de France on Friday, but the 27-year-old's focus has immediately turned to the Lions' tour of the Rainbow Nation.

South African-born van der Merwe trained alongside Kolbe at a national rugby sevens camp in 2012 before moving overseas and eventually qualifying for Scotland on residency grounds last year.

The 26-year-old is one of six back-three players in the tourists' squad for the nine-game schedule which includes three Tests against the Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks in July and August.

"He's an unbelievable player. I think he's got everything a winger needs," Kolbe said.

"The British and Irish Lions, the team they've announced and the back-three they've announced, there are guys that can run with the ball, they're good on defence.

"They've got a good balance," Kolbe added.

Kolbe watched the Lions' 2009 tour to South Africa as a high school student in the Western Cape.

"Playing against the Lions, it only comes every 12 years, so it's definitely massive," Kolbe said.

"The focus is just to get the preparation done and the little details when we join up with the Boks."

The three-match series comes after a long campaign for Kolbe, where he has scored nine tries in 23 matches in a period stretching back almost 13 months.

The Springboks' last Test was the 2019 World Cup final drubbing of England, although some players featured in an intra-squad game last October.

"I can't complain, I'm still young," Kolbe said.

"We haven't played internationally for a year now. What I've heard from the boys in camp is that preparation is going really well, even if it's tough.

"Coming out of a season, going into a new Boks season, getting pre-season done it's going to be challenging but something I'm looking forward to."

No crowd 'pity'

On Friday the Olympic bronze medallist faced two fellow Boks three-quarters in La Rochelle's Dillyn Leyds and Raymond Rhule.

The pair missed out on selection from Jacques Nienaber's squad despite scoring 15 tries between them this term.

"I feel for Dillyn and Raymond, they've had unbelievable seasons for La Rochelle," Kolbe said.

"They've played great rugby but at the end of the day it's what the coaches want."

Kolbe will fly home on Monday after title celebrations and receiving a second Covid-19 vaccine.

The Lions will head to South Africa next week but no spectators will be allowed at games due to the worsening Covid-19 pandemic.

It is the continent's worst-hit country, with more than 1.8 million cases and over 59 000 deaths.

"It's a difficult time especially with the numbers rising with winter back home," Kolbe said.

"It's just a pity we can't get supporters in the stadium. The atmosphere would have been unbelievable, crazy."

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