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RWC Best Boks v Italy

30 September 2019, by: Quintin Van Jaarsveld

BEST BOKS: Pound for pound king Kolbe’s legend grows

Cheslin Kolbe enhanced his growing reputation as a global superstar with a scintillating showing in the Springboks’ 49-3 thumping of Italy in their must-win Rugby World Cup clash in Shizuoka on Friday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

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Continuing where he left off against the All Blacks, Kolbe’s sensational skill and will once again make him South Africa’s standout player. Moreover, he cemented himself as the best pound for pound player at the World Cup. Despite being one of the smallest players on the park, the right-wing is one of the most noticeable and influential due to his hustle and hunger.

The two-try hero’s a human highlight reel, but he’s so much more than that as he showed with another complete performance to help the Springboks all but book their place in the quarterfinals. A great example for young players, the diminutive dynamo outworks the opposition. That’s his biggest strength. He chases high balls hard, out jumps his taller opposition – even the legendary Sergio Parisse – and always looks for work. You’ll never see him camp out on his wing – the little livewire injects himself into the action and has inspired his teammates to increase their workrate.

Tries are the reward for his outstanding output. One can see the 25-year-old approaches the game with that mentality; he’s the furthest thing from a glory hog. He backs himself and his electrifying abilities but is an equally effective playmaker. X-factor players like Kolbe are celebrated for their fantastic footwork and phenomenal finishing skills, but it’s their ability to scan situations in the blink of an eye that makes them the threats that they are.

Kolbe dazzlingly displayed all these qualities to score the first of his two tries at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, beating two Italian defenders despite having little to no room to work within the fifth minute. He made his second look easy, even though it wasn’t, showing clutch composure and handling skills to pick up Handré Pollard’s crosskick and canter home in the 53rd minute. He made three clean breaks, beat four defenders and ran for 94 metres in all.

Tougher than a R20 steak, the Toulouse ace was just as good on defence, where his pressure and tenacity forced a panicking Matteo Minozzi into a poor pass, which RG Snyman gladly snapped up to score his first Test try in the 76th minute. Even though there were several good performances, Kolbe was the undeniable star of the show and the Man of the Match award he received was a fitting token of his excellence.

Although the backline struggled to get out of first gear, everyone lifted their game. Faf de Klerk’s tactical kicking was much better, even leading to a try – ultimately disallowed – five minutes into the second half. Pollard played with more confidence and had good moments, Damian de Allende had a cracker, Makazole Mapimpi was on fire once again and Willie le Roux recovered from his shocker against the All Blacks well enough, the chip that created Mapimpi’s try in the 67th minute being the highlight of his performance.

However, Lukhanyo Am outshone them. With the Springboks having lost Jesse Kriel to a hamstring injury and Rassie Erasmus opting to call-up flyhalf/fullback Damian Willemse, Am’s importance to the side has doubled as the only specialist outside centre. That the Sharks star made such an emphatic statement would, therefore, have eased Erasmus’ concerns. The 25-year-old racked up an unrivalled 99 metres, made three clean breaks and ran in an intercept try in the 58th minute. He stood out on defence as well, winning two turnovers inside his half.

In the pack, Tendai Mtawarira and Lood de Jager deserve a special mention, “Beast” absolutely destroying both Italian tightheads while also making 10 tackles, and De Jager bossing the lineout and making a team-high 11 hits. The big boys all delivered, but the standouts were Duane Vermeulen and Bongi Mbonambi.

Vermeulen needed a big game and had exactly that. The talismanic No.8 carried strongly as always but did his best work on defence. A key figure in the trenches, he forced an important maul turnover inside the Springboks’ 22 in the 22nd minute and won a breakdown penalty a minute later. Those were just the highlights of his consistently strong showing. The veteran’s in-your-face outing, unfortunately, made him the target of Italian foul play. Thankfully, he escaped serious injury after being spiked on his head in that nasty two-man tip tackle.

Mbonambi, meanwhile, made the most of his starting opportunity. Like Vermeulen, he was outstanding on defence, smashing the Azzurri back with a number of dominant tackles. He worked hard at ruck time as well, was flawless with his lineout throwing and crashed over for another try from the back of an unstoppable driving maul in the 26th minute.

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