Cape Town – Cheslin Kolbe is “overwhelmed and excited” about the possibility of making his Springbok debut against the Wallabies in the Rugby Championships in Brisbane on Saturday.
The fleet footed outside back – who is equally at home at fullback or on the wing – was part of the Bok squad in 2016, but never came close to selection at test level.
He admitted when he left for France with his wife Layla and baby daughter Kylah to play for Toulouse in 2017 he never gave up hope of one day representing South Africa.
Since his arrival at Toulouse he has made a tremendous impact with his devastating line breaks and brave defence. Videos of his exploits for Toulouse went viral and he quickly established himself as a cult hero at the Top14 club.
“Not getting a chance in 2016 was a huge disappointment. However, I never gave up on my dream and told myself if I keep performing hopefully I would get recognized for it,” the 24-year-old said in an exclusive interview after he heard the news of his Bok call up last Friday.
“All I needed to do was to keep on playing and enjoy my rugby as much as possible.”
Asked if it was a tough decision at the time to leave Cape Town after representing his beloved Stormers in 49 Super Rugby games, he said: “I have learned a great deal coming to France. Playing in the Top14 and sharing the field with lots of seasoned international players allowed me to grow as a player and has given me lots of confidence.
“My coach at Toulouse has always backed me. He believes in me and allows me to play my natural game by giving me lots of freedom on the field. That’s what has motivated me even more. My coaches are all so happy for me to get this opportunity.”
With the former Brackenfell High School learner standing only 1.72 meters in his rugby boots and weighing in at a meagre 74 kg, there have always been doubts about his lack of size. However, there are those who believe he has the ability to do a similar job on attack that Damian McKenzie does for the All Blacks.
“I will try to contribute my strengths to the team and although people compare me to Damian McKenzie, I would like to be known for my own style of play. Damian is a brilliant all round player but I hope to bring my own flair to the Boks, if I get the opportunity,” he explained.
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus is known for his astuteness as a coach. Kolbe says it gives him confidence that a coach like Erasmus believes in his abilities and what he can bring to the Boks.
“Obviously by coach Rassie including me in the team gives me a lot of confidence. He sees potential in me and I just hope I get the opportunity to play.
Kolbe has been following the Boks and he is particularly excited about their current style of play.
“I have been watching their game plan and I’m excited to fit in and join up with them. I feel it’s an environment in which I will be able to express myself and will also gain a lot of experience from this.”
Playing Super Rugby for the Stormers against the best that the Australian and New Zealand franchises has to offer in Super Rugby is nothing new to the Kolbe. He is therefore confident he will not be overawed when he eventually gets his opportunity.
“Yes, having played against most of those players at Super Rugby level does give me confidence. However, all I can do is to do my best for the team and make the most of the opportunity if it comes my way.
Kolbe’s wife Layla, who has been staying with him in France with their daughter, Kylah, believes her husband’s call up is long overdue.
“He’s been working consistently hard and has been overlooked in the past. This call up has given him lots of hope and has lifted his spirit tremendously with regards to his Bok opportunity,” said Layla.
Layla and Kylah returned to Cape Town last Saturday whilst her husband flew directly from France to link up with the Boks in Johannesburg before their departure to Brisbane.
“I will obviously miss Layla and Kylah and miss out on a few Top14 games, but the great thing is that Toulouse is giving me their full support,” added Kolbe.