British Lions will have their hands full trying to stop Cheslin Kolbe, says Jason Robinson
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Jason Robinson was nicknamed “Billy Whizz” when he played for England, after the Beano comic book character that ran like the wind, so he knows what he is talking about when he says Cheslin Kolbe is a “Box Office” player that could be a match-winner for the Boks in the approaching series against the British & Irish Lions.
Robinson, the first black man to captain England, was one of the most experienced rugby players of all time. As a dual code international, he played 12 rugby league Tests for Great Britain and seven for England before switching to rugby union and playing 51 times for England. He played a whopping 300 league matches for Wigan and then in union, 159 games for Sale Sharks and 13 for Bath, before retiring in 2007.
“Cheslin Kolbe is one of the best attacking players in the world right now,” said Robinson, now 46. “He is so difficult to stop — he has great acceleration and great footwork, and he is playing off the back of the most physical pack in the word. “If the Boks get momentum against the Lions, Kolbe can pick the best players off. He can make world-class players look very average. He is Box Office and the Lions are going to have their hands full containing him.”
Robinson, who was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to rugby, is currently a director at Sale Sharks, where he has had a close eye on the South Africans at the club who are now with the Boka in Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez, Faf de Klerk, Lood de Jager and Coenie Oosthuizen.
“Faf is another Bok who can make things happen should the Springbok forwards get ascendancy,” says Robinson, the scorer of England’s try in their 2003 World Cup final defeat of Australia. “He has tremendous energy and, like Kolbe, is a huge threat off front-foot ball.”
Robinson says the form of the overseas-based South Africans is one reason why the Boks might not be as rusty as many think.
“There are players in the Bok squad that made a big impact on the recent English Premiership, and the same in French rugby and the PRO 14,” he said. “If you look at a guy like Jasper Wiese (the young, former Cheetahs player)... Leicester had been struggling for a few seasons and this year they turned the corner, and Jasper played a big part in that. His performances have been outstanding and with Duane Vermeulen injured, I imagine there is a great opportunity for him. And I am sure he will take it because he has got he bit between his teeth.”
Robinson says he is not surprised that the Du Preez twins were recalled to the Bok squad.
“They have incredible work ethic, as do all the South Africans at Sale, and they have been picked because they produce on the field. Their physicality and the go-forward they generate are phenomenal. And Lood de Jager was on fire prior to being injured (he could still play a role in the Test series). Lood and Coenie are incredible athletes for such big men. In general, the Lions players certainly know what the overseas-based Boks are capable of.”
One of the big debates ahead of the Test series is which of the teams will be better prepared? The Boks have barely played but have the core of the team that won the World Cup while the Lions are a new collective but their players have individually played a number of Test matches in the recent past.
“As an ex Lion I hope the Boks are a bit rusty, but the reality is the Lions get an opportunity every four years while for the Boks it is every 12 years, so their players know it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and they will find a way to be ready.
“They are world champions for a reason, they have world-class players, and at Sale I have worked with a number of them, so I know the quality of their team. I don’t think they will be rusty.
“From a Lions perspective, beating South Africa on home soil in a Test series is one of the ultimate prizes in rugby. If I was in that Lions team playing against the Boks, it would be like going into a World Cup final.
“It is going to be a very tough series and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.”
· Land Rover is the official vehicle of the Springboks and of the B&I Lions Tour to South Africa