Will the real Cheslin Kolbe be allowed to stand up and put on a show on the French Riviera?

Cheslin Kolbe needs to be at his best against France. Photo: Morgan Treacy/INPHO/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Cheslin Kolbe needs to be at his best against France. Photo: Morgan Treacy/INPHO/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Published Nov 10, 2022


Cape Town – The Springboks will have been lapping it up in Toulon on the French Riviera this week, with warmer weather also welcoming them to the Côte d’Azur region, where the rich and famous love to play.

Big names such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Elton John, Tina Turner, Johnny Depp and Roman Abramovich have lived in the area, which has also been dubbed the ‘Peninsula of Billionaires’.

Kurt-Lee Arendse posted a few videos on his Instagram stories on Thursday showing him riding a bike along the beachfront, which captures the stunning sights and sounds perfectly.

And it is also where the world champion Boks will be based for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which is why they have been staying on the south coast ahead of Saturday’s Test against France at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille (10pm SA time kickoff).

That’s about a 50-minute drive west from Toulon’s Stade Mayol, which is what Bok superstar Cheslin Kolbe calls home too. The 29-year-old joined the big-spending club last August, having become a French and European champion with Toulouse previously.


Kolbe’s first season at Toulon was badly affected by injuries, but he was able to play four matches on a trot this term before joining the Boks once more ahead of last week’s Ireland Test in Dublin.

But it was a difficult night for the Capetonian at the Aviva Stadium. His task was made tougher by the fact that he was making his first start at fullback for the national team, having played all previous 20 Tests at right wing.

Kolbe had been away from the international scene since July as well, following a broken jaw against Wales, so that extra pressure of wanting to impress upon his return to the Boks.

As if that was not enough on his plate against the No 1-ranked team in the world, he had to take over the goal-kicking duties from Damian Willemse after the Bok flyhalf missed one penalty at the posts, having slotted his first shot through the uprights.

Kolbe went on to miss two conversions, but knocked over a penalty – and was also a bit fortunate to get only a yellow card for a dangerous tip tackle on Irish wing Mack Hansen.

What was even more concerning, though, is that the former Stormers hot-stepper hardly took on the defence with ball-in-hand. Clearly playing to the coaches’ instructions, he kicked the ball four times and made just six carries.

With those carries, though, he earned 32 running metres, with four defenders beaten, two passes and one clean break.

In contrast, Ireland’s No 15 Hugo Keenan had 10 carries, but had only two defenders beaten, with 45 running metres and five passes.

Imagine Kolbe had been given more licence to thrill? The image stuck in my memory is when he stood deep in the pocket at flyhalf and launched up-and-unders – twice.

Why would you waste the unique talents of Kolbe in that manner?

This week, he has been shifted back to No 14, with Willie le Roux at fullback and Kurt-Lee Arendse moving from the right to the left wing – and it is a pity that Kolbe will be the first-choice goal-kicker, as Willemse should have been backed to do the job.

Makazole Mapimpi was unlucky to be pushed to the bench, but Bok coach Jacques Nienaber said he believed the back-three picked was the best combination to take on the French.

Kolbe and Arendse’s stronger kicking games would have won them the nod over Mapimpi – as the French also like to put boot to ball – but let’s not hope it’s a sign of things to come on Saturday.

Kolbe, especially, is at his best when he is able to run at defenders and beat them in one-on-one situations – and that’s why he needs his inside backs to get the ball to him and create space.

Inside centre Damian de Allende made 11 carries and just two passes against Ireland, earning 35 running metres, while No 13 Jesse Kriel had six carriers – the same as Kolbe – and had 16 running metres, with two passes.

For the record, Arendse had two carries and Mapimpi one in Dublin…

That cannot happen to Kolbe and Arendse once more against France. Kolbe is adored by the French public, and while they will be passionate in singing the national anthem La Marseillaise – especially in the city where it first became the rallying call for the French Revolution in the late 1700s – they are also quick to acknowledge brilliant play from the opposition.

So, will the real Cheslin Kolbe be allowed to stand up and put on a show for the French Riviera’s rich and famous?