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From Kraaifontein to Toulon: Pound for pound, Kolbe is the best rugby player in the world

Cheslin Kolbe challenged by Luke Cowan-Dickie of the British & Irish Lions in the third Test of the British & Lions Tour at the Cape Town stadium. Picture: Phando Jikelo, African News Agency (ANA)

Cheslin Kolbe has had to make a lot of sacrifices to get to the top, which started with leaving his Cape Town home at the Stormers and Western Province for France.

CAPE TOWN – CHESLIN Kolbe is on top of the rugby world at the moment.

Not only is he a world champion, he has also just concluded a move to Toulon from French and European champions Toulouse, which some media reports say has placed him in the “million-pound club”.

That is rather appropriate, as Kolbe is, pound for pound, the best rugby player in the world.

But that doesn’t mean that it is just a fun-filled glamorous lifestyle for the 27-year-old from Kraaifontein. Kolbe has had to make a lot of sacrifices to get to the top, which started with leaving his Cape Town home at the Stormers and Western Province for France in 2017.

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However, his then-girlfriend Layla Cupido also opted to stop the process of becoming a chartered accountant – she was doing her articles – at the time – to support Kolbe in France.

Cheslin Kolbe when he played for the Stormers during the 2017 Super Rugby Quarter-final match against the Chiefs at Newlands Stadium. Picture: Chris Ricco, BackpagePix

The move paid off, as he excelled for his new club and became a Springbok in 2018 against Australia in Brisbane, and scored his first try a week later in that famous victory over the All Blacks in Wellington.

Family time

The rest is history on the pitch, but off it, the couple now have two daughters, Kylah and Mila, and that is why Kolbe was so appreciative of the MyPlayers organisation for pushing for families to stay with the Boks during the recent British and Irish Lions series in Cape Town.

“A lot of people out there have so many expectations about the Springboks, but there are so many people behind the scenes who have to keep fighting battles to make it as comfortable for us as players, to perform on weekends,” Kolbe told Independent Media from the Gold Coast in Australia, where the Boks are taking part in the Rugby Championship.

“That then means our families were allowed in the bio-bubble, and MyPlayers definitely fought for that to happen, because at a stage during the British and Irish Lions tour, they didn’t want families to be at the hotels because they just thought it might be unfair towards the Lions players.

“MyPlayers fought to get our families involved, and the coaches believed in it as well. They also just managed our wives so brilliantly throughout the bio-bubble. Obviously we were limited, due to Covid, to go out, but they still managed to arrange activities, spa days and all those kinds of things at the hotel.

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“It’s an unbelievable blessing having two healthy, beautiful daughters, Kylah and Mila, and a beautiful wife as well – I couldn’t be blessed more than what I’ve been blessed with.

“A lot of people think the rugby life is an easy life, but the women are the ones who are sacrificing the most out of everything. My wife had to leave her job to follow my dreams, coming to France, and obviously most of the time being alone with the kids as I am travelling in France or currently now with the Springboks, she has to manage with both kids.

Picture: EPA-EFE, Mark R Cristino

“But she is doing an unbelievable job, and I am just blessed with a wonderful wife and wonderful partner. I am just thankful for that because we as players see what they put in as our partners, but a lot of people out there don’t get to see what goes on behind the scenes and the sacrifices they have to make.

“I can honestly tell you it’s not easy, and for me, I’m missing out on moments with my kids as well. My big daughter Kylah is growing up – she’s going to be five years old soon, and my second one just turned 10 months two days ago, and literally started standing up by herself and started walking … and started pronouncing words, which is sad to miss and see.

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“You can never turn back the clock to notice it first-hand. So, that’s a bit of a difficult one, but myself and my wife know what our career holds, and what sacrifices we have to make. As long as we are on the same path, and that we both agree that that’s more important to be doing now …

“I’m just grateful and blessed with an amazing wife and two beautiful, healthy daughters.”

Looking after the players

MyPlayers is an organisation that is owned by the professional rugby players in South Africa, and it provides advice and support to the players in terms of their careers or anything else they may need.

The relationship with the Bok squad has grown closer over the last few years, with MyPlayers chief executive Eugene Henning part of the group at the 2019 World Cup. Henning and MyPlayers national relationship manager Isma-eel Dollie – who played at flyhalf for Western Province and was also part of Peter de Villiers’ first Springbok squad in 2008 – again joined the Boks for the Lions series, with Dollie now in Australia as well.

“We’ve got Eugene and Ish with us, who have been travelling, and always being around when you need to chat to them about certain things that can help you. They have been there to help us and make life easier for us,” Kolbe said.

The Bok right wing was recently nominated for the MyPlayers’ Players Choice Awards, which will take place on September 23, for the Players’ Player of the Year. “To be nominated for Players’ Player of the Year among so many great talents in South Africa, and young and experienced players who have shone throughout the year … For me to achieve that accolade is fantastic,” he said.

Cheslin Kolbe of South Africa with the trophy after the 2021 British and Irish Lions Tour third Test at Cape Town Stadium on 7 August 2021. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky, BackpagePix

“I can just give credit to my teammates that I’ve played with for creating situations for me to shine on the field. From my side, I’m humbled to achieve this nomination, and hopefully I can keep encouraging young players in South Africa to do their best and be at their best.

“I want to keep enjoying myself and making each and every opportunity as special as I can as a rugby player.”

Conspicuous in his absence

Kolbe was conspicuous in his absence from Sunday’s 28-26 defeat to the Wallabies, as the Boks battled to get going on attack and gave away too many penalties on the night.

He took a blow to the leg in the first week of training in Australia, but is hopeful that he will be ready for the second Wallaby clash at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday (9.05am SA time kickoff) – and he wants to enjoy being out of Covid-19 quarantine …

“I was not able to play this (past) weekend, but injuries happen, and I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. It’s all in God’s control, and for me, it’s about focusing on my rehabilitation and getting everything done, so that I can get onto the field as soon as possible,” Kolbe said.

“The results that I’ve gotten over the past five days have been amazing. So hopefully I will get to run this week and play this week as well. Just taking it day by day.

“It’s been good (in Australia), can’t complain. The weather has been good to us – we’re stuck in the hotel obviously, but we will be out soon, just to get a bit of freedom!”

And despite all the success on the pitch over the last few years, Kolbe is hungry for more. While the Boks won the 2019 World Cup, they have a bit of a score to settle with the All Blacks, having lost their first match in that tournament 23-13 against New Zealand.

Test number 100

Kolbe starred in that encounter, putting in a number of thrilling runs with ball-in-hand. The most memorable one of those was when he was heading for the try-line, but was just unable to dot down in the corner as All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga produced a superb tackle to take him into touch.

The September 25 showdown with the Kiwis will also mark the 100th Test between the two teams, but Kolbe, though, doesn’t want to think about that game just yet.

“It’s been an unbelievable few years for the Springboks since 2019, and the British and Irish Lions series now, and the two Tests against Argentina,” he said.

“We are not going to get ahead of ourselves in terms of making the Springbok-New Zealand 100th Test match more important. We definitely have to stay on task and take it weekend by weekend.

“The preparation for the Wallaby Test (last week was unbelievable, and I am looking forward to the coming games.”


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