The 26-year-old is one of those special players who has the knack of creating something out of nothing.
CHESLIN Kolbe’s return to the Springbok starting 15 for the World Cup final might not seem too much of a big deal considering it is the only (and expected) change to the match 23 that beat Wales but it is, in fact, significant.
As good as Sbu Nkosi is, Kolbe is on another level. He raises eyebrows every time he is involved in play, be it cutting down burly ball carriers twice his size, plucking the ball out of the air against opposition twice as tall, or sizzling with ball in hand.
Kolbe has that X-Factor that cannot be bought, never mind manufactured, and its priceless effect is to raise the game – and the spirits – of those around him.
The 26-year-old is one of those special players who has the knack of creating something out of nothing, and often doing it when the chips are down and the team needs a lift.
A player of this rare quality can turn a game on its head, and for the coach of a team in the World Cup final, he is just what the doctor ordered – or cured in the case of Kolbe and the troublesome ankle that kept him out of the semi-final.
This match squad came together for the third-round match against Italy, then the quarter-final win over Japan; there was just the Kolbe/Nkosi switch for the semi, and now the final is pretty much the fourth consecutive outing for these guys.
Any coach will tell you that consistency in selection is a huge asset in team sport in that it builds spirit and confidence. It is why Rassie has not dropped Willie le Roux when so many are wondering why he hasn’t. When you are in a tournament such as this one, with the stakes so high, you don’t want to chop and change unless you really have to.
It was early in the World Cup that Rassie made his key changes – Lood de Jager for Franco Mostert; Bongi Mbonambi for Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe for Steven Kitshoff – and they would have been planned for some time, with the players knowing they were coming.
Only one player, Francois Steyn, has experienced a World Cup final (2007) but you would be surprised at the number of forwards that were part of the unit that won the bronze medal at the 2015 event after losing 20-18 to New Zealand in the semi-final.
Four of tomorrow’s tight five started in that semi in Tendai Mtawarira, Malherbe, De Jager and Eben Etzebeth (Bismarck du Plessis was the hooker that day). Two of the loose trio then – Duane Vermeulen and Francois Louw – are doing duty again, although Louw is playing off the bench.
In the backline tomorrow, Handré Pollard, Damian de Allende and Le Roux are the survivors from 2015.
The starting 15 that lost narrowly to the All Blacks in 2015 was richly experienced, with a combined total caps of 701. Interestingly, the total of the current starting line-up is just about the same, 694.