If you haven’t already heard – or have been living under a rock – the Springboks are through to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup through a titanic performance from a bunch of elite players.
But Sunday’s blockbuster quarter-final against tournament hosts France was special for several moments of brilliance – two of which came from electric winger Cheslin Kolbe.
In the 20th minute, the lightning-fast Kolbe charged down French fullback Thomas Ramos’s conversion, a feat that has had rugby commentators the world over raving about.
Those two points would ultimately be the deciding factor in the Springboks one-point 29-28 victory.
Kolbe’s shining moment
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 16, 2023
Not only did it take a burst of speed to cover the 22m or so, but to do so while legitimately following the rules. Essentially, Kolbe had to wait for Ramos to start to move and he was fair game.
“I did everything by the book, and within the rules, I was behind the line before he started his run,” Kolbe said afterwards. “I tried to run as fast as possible to charge it down. I wanted to make him feel a bit of pressure.”
And that he did. But what makes his athletic feat even more amazing is that it reveals the tactical awareness Kolbe has from playing in the French rugby leagues.
“I think it definitely helped that I played with Thomas [Ramos] for six years and knew what he was doing,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter in size and height and weight”
But Kolbe’s rugby triumphs have come despite years of prejudice about his admittedly diminutive size.
He was worried about how far he would be able to get playing rugby “because everybody’s telling me I’m too small,” he said in a 2013 interview.
“My father just told me that I mustn’t worry what people tell me because they do not have much impact in my life. But it’s what I want to do and what I want to achieve.”
And that he has. Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus called Kolbe into the Springbok line-up when he took over as coach in 2018. Neither Kolbe nor the Springboks have looked back since.
“It doesn’t matter in size and height and weight,” Kolbe said in the interview. “It’s all about the heart and the mind. So, you can achieve anything you believe you can.”
And that he has. Kolbe scored one of the two tries in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final in Japan against England, who the Springboks line up against this weekend in the semi-final.
Watch the short interview here:
In 2013 I worked on a story about a promising young rugby player alongside my colleague @RafiqWagiet.
Interviewing this youngster at his parents’ humble home, it was already clear he was something special. But boy, little did we know where Cheslin Kolbe would be 10 years later. pic.twitter.com/QBt5ImBmyu
— Aletta Harrison (@AlettaHarrison) October 16, 2023
Other moments of magic
Kolbe showed his brilliance six minutes later to score the Springboks’ third try by being perfectly positioned to catch a kick ahead by centre Jesse Kriel. Kolbe blasts the final 20 metres, leaving French wing Damian Penaud to desperately try an ankle tap.
— Neil Schreuder (@Neil_Schreuder) October 16, 2023
The final moments
With 13 minutes left, replacement flyhalf Handre Pollard slotted a 55m penalty from inside his own half to increase the score to four points, before Ramos reduced it to a point with a 72nd-minute penalty.
Two minutes later, camped on the French line, Kolbe steps up the scrum and attempts a drop goal to put things out of touch. Although he missed, that’s the kind of World Cup-winning spirit that will hopefully help the defending champions hold onto their trophy.
As Kolbe said in 2013, “you can achieve anything you believe you can”.