Cheslin Kolbe was a bright spark for the Springboks as they suffered a 35-20 Rugby Championship loss to the All Blacks in Auckland on Saturday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
A slow, error-strewn start by the world champions saw them trail 17-0 after as many minutes and while the Bomb Squad helped them close the gap to eight, the hosts closed out the game with two fourth-quarter tries to retain the Freedom Cup and put one hand on the Rugby Championship silverware.
Our top three Springbok standouts were:
Kolbe was the best of the Springboks by some margin at Mount Smart Stadium. The pocket rocket did himself proud and produced big plays on both sides of the ball.
He injected life into the attack and asked questions of the All Blacks’ defence every time he touched the ball. His 98 metres from nine carries were almost triple that of the next-best Springbok, while he beat three defenders and made two clean breaks.
He was switched on mentally from the get-go, whereas most of his teammates lacked intensity. He probed with darting runs and got the men in green and gold back into the game with a Superman dive to score in the corner, after he’d slotted a difficult conversion of Malcolm Marx’s try.
Unlucky to have been denied an earlier score by a controversial TMO call, Kolbe was good all-around, making a try-saving tackle on the sensational Will Jordan just after halftime, and one last break in the final play of the game.
Willie le Roux
Flawless he was not, but the positives of the veteran fullback’s performance far outweighed the negatives.
Le Roux was the Springboks’ primary playmaker, constantly slotting in at first receiver to do what Damian Willemse was unable to, namely provide some attacking spark.
He did so with good vision and excellent execution at times, including the magic bullet he put Kolbe in with. Without his ingenuity, the visitors would’ve been dead in the water.
His kicking out of hand was phenomenal as well, the 33-year-old delivering three terrific clearance kicks that found touch in New Zealand’s half.
Another senior player who stood up, “Spicy Plum” made his presence felt in all facets of play.
He was strong in the scrum as always, winning a penalty, and carried with purpose, but the most impressive part of his performance was his pilfering at the breakdown.
No other prop in world rugby is as effective at slowing down the opposition’s ball and seizing turnovers as Kitshoff and yet it remains an underappreciated part of his game.
With Kwagga Smith failing to make an impact at ruck time, Kitshoff took the responsibility upon himself and produced two jackals, the first on the half-hour mark and the second five minutes later, which saw the Springboks finally open their account.