Cheslin Kolbe cut the Blue Bulls to shreds at Newlands a fortnight ago, but Western Province backline coach Robbie Fleck believes that Saturday’s return game at Loftus Versfeld will be the “real test” of Kolbe’s ability as a fullback.
The 20-year-old Kolbe is finally getting an extended run in the No 15 jersey in the Currie Cup after having to operate at wing for the Stormers, and he has been sensational with his game-breaking ability, authoritative decision-making, big boot and outstanding defence.
But Province have played all three games at the coast – two at Newlands and the opening game in Port Elizabeth – so the high altitude in Pretoria could become a determining factor as the Bulls are sure to pepper Kolbe with big up-and-unders that will be chased by fit-again Springbok wing Bjorn Basson, who did not play at Newlands in the first WP-Bulls match.
“This will be his real test. I said it two weeks ago that Loftus will be the real test for him as a fullback. It will be a real test for Seabelo and Kobus van Wyk (too). The ball just travels further and higher, and the Bulls kicking game is 30 to 40 percent better than what it would be at Newlands,” Fleck said this week.
“Bjorn Basson is the best contester in the air in the country, if not the world – he is a real specialist at it, and he’s hurt us in the past. But our boys are prepared for that, and nothing changes when you go up to Loftus – you know that you are facing a massive kicking game, and a massive onslaught upfront.
“So our boys will have to front-up there. But it’s crucial that our back-three have a commanding presence in the air and that they can handle what’s coming their way.”
But Kolbe is not alone, as his back-three partners Seabelo Senatla and Kobus van Wyk have also been in fine form. Senatla’s speed and defensive skills, as well as the power and pace of Van Wyk, has formed a well-rounded unit as they complement each other with different skill-sets.
Van Wyk scored two fantastic tries in last week’s win over the Lions, while Senatla also dotted down twice against the Bulls at Newlands. So they have no reason to fear what’s coming their way at Loftus from the likes of Bulls halfbacks Piet van Zyl and Tony Jantjies.
“We said that Cheslin will take some time to build up some confidence in that position. And likewise Kobus van Wyk, whose first few Super Rugby starts were pretty tough – we remember that Brumbies game where he made an error. But as he got more comfortable in the position, he started to play some decent rugby, and he has played well in the last couple of weeks,” said Fleck.
“Cheslin put in a commanding performance against the Bulls at Newlands, and another good one last weekend against a very good Lions side. So they are extremely confident. Seabelo has made such an easy transition from Sevens to 15-man rugby. The kid is phenomenal with ball-in-hand and even more so defensively.
“If the Bulls kicking game is not accurate, then we’ve all seen what those three can do in broken play. So it’s something that we’ve got to favour and hold on to, that the Bulls kicking game won’t be at 100 percent all the time.”
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said earlier in the season that he wants to see his team play with more width on attack, but it hasn’t quite worked out for the Pretoria side, with two heavy defeats at the hands of the Lions and WP and then a fortunate 30-25 win over lowly EP last week.
So Province are expecting them to go back to their usual territory and forwards-based gameplan on Saturday, but WP are determined to play a quick game. “I think the way we want to play, I think we want to speed things up. I think it’s working for us,” Fleck said.
“Once our set-piece really starts to fire, we will be able to get a complete game. We are going to Loftus with a few tricks up our sleeves and we would like to keep them guessing.
“You can’t go up to the Bulls just thinking that you can beat them with broken play. Your set-piece has to be dominant and you need to match theirs, if not better it.
“There’s no doubt that we want a balanced game – and I know that you guys have heard that word for six years now! – but it’s massively important to us that we can’t just go from one extreme to the other. Our set-piece has to be strong.
“If we want to win trophies, we’ve got to have a decent set-piece and a decent structured attack. I don’t think the Bulls will make the same mistake and cough up possession – they will look to be a lot more structured and conservative.” - Cape Times