Springboks

French going gaga over Cheslin, says kick guru

Cheslin Kolbe (Getty Images)
Cheslin Kolbe (Getty Images)

Perhaps it is because the country has traditionally produced such thrilling, free-spirited attacking customers as Philippe Sella, Serge Blanco and Frederic Michalak.

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But the current French rugby public are entranced by at least one non-homegrown backline star in the Top 14 set-up: Cheslin Kolbe.

So says Vlok Cilliers, the dual Springbok and SA Sevens player and presently kicking consultant - through to the 2023 World Cup - on the back-up panel to French national coach Fabien Galthie, his former Western Province team-mate in the mid-1990s.

Although his campaign has been cruelly interrupted by the ravages of the global coronavirus pandemic, Toulouse-based Kolbe has only enhanced his reputation as a crowd-pleasing factor in the period since his return from a pivotal role in the Boks' Webb Ellis Cup-winning success in Japan late last year.

The 26-year-old's bamboozling footwork put the cherry on top - through their second try - of South Africa's 32-12 triumph in the RWC 2019 final against France's old foe from across the Channel, England.

Cilliers, just back from several weeks with Les Bleus through their strong Six Nations campaign, told Sport24 that his stint in the country made him realise the full extent of the allure of the diminutive nominee for 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year.

"I saw the game (last month) where he was moved to flyhalf and earned rightful praise - it was a game they only lost (to Racing) with the clock having gone beyond 80 mins.

"The other game, he was at more familiar fullback, the first match back for him after the World Cup and he entered off the bench. The whole stadium stood up and applauded him ... it was an amazing acknowledgement of what he'd done throughout the World Cup.

"You got the sense they viewed him as a true superstar, one of the very biggest names on the French club scene."

Cilliers says he would not favour more regular deployment of Kolbe in the No 10 channel, however.

"I debate with plenty of people the possibilities for Cheslin as a flyhalf, though my own instinct remains that he needs more space - so back three is a better idea.

"You want to see him with time on the ball, changing his angles, instinctively reading the game and his opportunities as an attacker.

"When you are at flyhalf you have so many different things to think about, so many voices in your ear. I don't think that 'structure' suits him.

"He's also not the biggest in that channel, and you take knocks there, get targeted sometimes, though we know he is very gutsy."

Nevertheless, Cilliers believes Kraaifontein-born Kolbe got his crack in the flyhalf berth at least partly on the strength of his sometimes under-rated kicking skills.

"Cheslin gets good range on his line kicks despite not being the biggest guy; a lot is about the timing, the contact with the ball.

"When you are shorter, they say your power is closer to the ground, so your follow-through is better, you generate more power and distance."

The 14-cap Kolbe has not yet started a match for the Boks against France, although he got 20 minutes or so off the bench when they edged them 29-26 in Paris in November 2018.

His chance may come later this year - if the Bok roster is operating normally by then - when they are scheduled to meet at Stade de France on November 21, part of the 2020 end-of-year pilgrimage to Europe.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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