TOKYO (Reuters) - In a game increasingly being dominated by giants, South Africa winger Cheslin Kolbe has a warning for those who would write off the smaller players on the rugby field.
“There is a saying that dynamite comes in small packages,” he told reporters on Wednesday ahead of the Springboks’ World Cup quarter-final against Japan. “(And) we all have something special we can contribute to our various teams.”
Kolbe is officially listed at 1.71m (5’7”) tall and weighs about 80kg, though the 2016 Olympic sevens bronze medallist barely looks even that big.
Once labelled too small to play for the Springboks and told to consider a shift to scrumhalf if he wanted to play top level rugby, the 25-year-old has silenced his critics with his electrifying pace and nimble side-stepping.
In the Springboks tournament opener against the All Blacks, Kolbe turned Richie Mo’unga inside out three times before he was tackled in the corner by the New Zealand flyhalf, himself not much bigger than the Toulouse utility back.
Kolbe injured his ankle in their match against Italy, a game in which he scored two tries, ran for 100m with the ball in hand and somehow beat the 1.96m tall Sergio Parisse to a box kick.
The speedy winger missed South Africa’s final pool match against Canada but coach Rassie Erasmus confirmed on Monday he would play against Japan in Tokyo on Sunday.
The former Stormers player moved to Toulouse in 2017 and thought he would never pull on the Springboks jersey, until Erasmus took over as coach from Allister Coetzee.
“Obviously, you want to play in South Africa and represent your country playing in a Super Rugby team,” Kolbe said.
“It just shows you as a player that no matter where you are in your life if you play the best rugby at a time and there are coaches who look at players abroad then there’s an opportunity to represent your country.”
Kolbe said he had been impressed by Japan’s own small packages of dynamite — Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima — as well as the Brave Blossoms’ style of play.
“Both the Japanese wingers are playing phenomenal rugby and have been on good form,” Kolbe said.
“Japan play some really exciting rugby and they love to give the ball air and want to stretch your defence structures.
“It’s definitely the style I want to play as well but we have our own structures and plan every week (and) ... we just have to make sure we cut down their options.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford