Could Cheslin Kolbe solve the Springboks flyhalf conundrum?
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Cape Town - This is not a late April Fools’ Day joke: Cheslin Kolbe is a flyhalf option for the Springboks going forward.
It’s not an idea just plucked out of thin air – Bok coach Jacques Nienaber said as much when discussing the 32-man squad for the November tour to Europe on Tuesday.
“There is a lot of versatility in terms of our squad. I know Cheslin is injured, but he is another guy that can step up – he’s played flyhalf for Toulouse at club level,” Nienaber said when quizzed about the lack of a third pivot in the group behind Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies.
The Bok management feel that it is a position that’s settled, but looking at current form, that’s not quite the case.
Following a serious knee ligament injury that kept him out for over seven months, Pollard returned for the Boks this year after just a few minutes of game time for his French club Montpellier.
The lack of match practice has been evident throughout the international season, with Pollard missing that sharpness on attack, while his goal-kicking has been well short of his best in 2021.
Contrast that with Jantjies, who made a significant impact in the final Rugby Championship match against the All Blacks in Australia.
Damian Willemse and Frans Steyn will operate as flyhalf cover to Pollard and Jantjies next month, but what about those who missed out?
Looking further ahead towards the 2023 World Cup in France, though, Nienaber should look to groom one or two more flyhalves who can step in should there be injuries to Pollard or Jantjies – especially with Morne Steyn having retired from the international arena this week.
Nienaber said Johan Goosen was “definitely” considered for the Bok squad before his injury, but he is out with the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament knee injury that Pollard had in 2020, and he is only likely to return to action for the Bulls in the next United Rugby Championship tournament in September next year.
Lions youngster Jordan Hendrikse looked to have all the necessary skills and temperament to follow his scrumhalf brother Jaden into the
Bok squad, but instead sustained the same fractured ankle injury as his sibling at the start of October against Scarlets, and will be out for three months at least.
That left the Bulls’ Chris Smith, the Sharks’ Boeta Chamberlain and the Stormers’ Manie Libbok as the starting URC flyhalves in recent weeks, and they are all still establishing themselves at their franchises at the moment.
Curwin Bosch also feels he is a flyhalf who is helping out the Sharks at fullback, but he has fallen out of the Bok picture as well.
Another promising youngster is Western Province’s Kade Wolhuter, who was part of the Green v Gold pre-season match in 2020, although he is also out with a serious knee injury and may only be back next year.
“That’s the bad thing about injuries. We all saw Jordan Hendrikse producing solid performances and getting used to the pace of the game. It is frustrating, as it would have been nice to see a guy go through a whole season playing 16, 17 matches and then going into the next season, as it would have done wonders for his development,” Nienaber said.
“There is some quality coming through. I’m just thinking about Boeta the other night, I thought he had a solid game. I don’t want to go into the fringe players’ names, because I will literally open a can of worms!
“But they know what they have to work on, and their challenge is probably getting continuity in their performances. And that’s the bad thing about injuries, as you want to follow up with consistency in performances.
“If you go back into history, a World Cup has never been won by a flyhalf who is younger than 25 years old, so those key game-driving positions – I would say No 9, 10, 15, your lineout-calling lock, the guys in charge of your scrums, set-pieces, which people would normally call the spine – you always would like to have experience in those positions, for handling pressure situations, especially going into a World Cup.”
So, considering all these variables, don’t be surprised if Kolbe – who will miss the November tour due to his ongoing knee injury, but will hope to feature for new club Toulon soon – is either wearing the No 10 jersey or lining up match-winning kicks at the 2023 World Cup …