Cape Town — If you had the opportunity to speak to Cheslin Kolbe privately and ask him what his favourite position in a rugby team would be, he would probably tell you fullback.
Of course, he wouldn’t say that publicly, as most rugby players are trained to avoid saying what’s really on their minds, in case it may cause controversy or offend someone.
Not that Kolbe doesn’t speak his mind when facing the media, but he is such a nice guy that he wouldn’t want any trouble with his coaches anyway.
If you had to probe the 29-year-old a bit further on what jersey he prefers, he may also say No 10, as that is where he played most of school rugby at Brackenfell High, which is about a 35-minute drive away from the Cape Town CBD.
So, it is quite ironic that he has played all of his 20 Test matches at right wing, which is arguably his least favourite spot.
The No 14 jersey is also where he has made his name at international level, with his try in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final and the solo effort against the British & Irish Lions last year two of the stand-out moments.
But Kolbe played most of his initial rugby for Western Province and the Stormers at No 15, so it was a bit of a full circle moment when he was picked there by Jacques Nienaber on Tuesday for Saturday’s mighty showdown with Ireland in Dublin.
Finally we could all see Kolbe operating in a bit more space to do his thing, as he is often starved out wide and has to chase up-and-unders in most Tests as he seldom gets the ball in his hands.
That shouldn’t be the case on Saturday, as Irish flyhalf and captain Johnny Sexton is sure to boot the ball into the heavens numerous times at the Aviva Stadium.
But, with less than a year to go to the opening game of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France — where the Boks will face Scotland in Marseille on September 10, followed by fellow Pool B contenders Romania (September 17, Bordeaux), Ireland (September 23, Paris) and Tonga (October 1, Marseille) — is it the right call to push Kolbe into a new position?
Nienaber said on Tuesday that the Boks had mulling it over for a while to play Kolbe at fullback, but that they just hadn’t had the opportunity to do so.
I don’t agree with that explanation, though. If it had been a real plan ahead of France 2023, surely Kolbe should have operated at No 15 already?
Yes, he has had a few injury setbacks as well in recent seasons, but whenever he has been fit to play, he was picked at wing.
It was clear that Damian Willemse was the man the Bok management were looking at for the fullback spot, with Willie le Roux the back-up.
It just seems as if now that Willemse is almost forced to play at flyhalf due to the unavailability of Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies, Kolbe is now being pushed into No 15.
My concern isn’t that Kolbe can’t do it, but rather that he doesn’t play at the back regularly for Toulon either. Most of his club games are at wing, with the odd one at flyhalf and fullback.
For me, someone like Kurt-Lee Arendse should perhaps have been employed at No 15, as that is where he plays for the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship every week.
Arendse has excelled in that position, and would have had the confidence of being part of the Bulls side that knocked over Leinster — who are filled with Irish Test stars — in last year’s URC semi-final in Dublin.
But the call has now been made, and let’s all hope Kolbe has a blinder on Saturday …