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Springboks explain naming Kolbe at No15, why he also covers No10

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Saturday in Dublin will see a strange sight for Springboks fans – Cheslin Kolbe running out wearing the No15 jersey for the first time in his Test career while also being on standby to provide cover at No10 should anything happen to the starting fly-half Damian Willemse. The recently-turned 29-year-old Kolbe has started on 16 previous occasions for South Africa – but every time he was in the No14 shirt and positioned on the right wing.

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Finally available again for international selection following the broken jaw injury sustained in July against Wales, Kolbe is one of three changes that Jacques Nienaber has announced in his Springboks team to face Ireland on Saturday six weeks after they got the better of Argentina in round six of The Rugby Championship in Durban.

Injured duo Frans Steyn and Canan Moodie have been replaced by Willemse and Kurt-Lee Arendse, but the major talking point on Tuesday after the Springboks confirmed their XV in Dublin was the presence of Kolbe at No15 in place of the benched Willie le Roux – with the added responsibility of potentially switching in-game to fly-half should a change be needed regarding Willemse, the starting No10.

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“Cheslin at full-back, I would say after about three or four games when he started with us in 2018, he was always a realistic option at 15,” revealed Nienaber. “He trained at 15 often for us. We were just never forced to play him there. Not forced but it was never an opportunity for us to play him there. But we feel this specific game having Cheslin at full-back will serve us the best.”

Asked to confirm if Kolbe was also covering fly-half, Nienaber added: “Yes. With us going with the six/two (bench) split, he will be our fly-half. With us doing roadmaps on the players and doing performance analysis he has been utilised at the Top 14 level at fly-half often, especially for Toulouse when the French team managed (Romain) Ntamack.

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“He stepped in and played fly-half for them quite often. Obviously, he is a very skillful player and that is the nice thing about having the versatility of a guy like Cheslin that can play full-back, that can play wing, and cover at fly-half, especially if you want to utilise the six/two (forwards/backs) split – that is quite important.”

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Nienaber admitted that the selection of Kolbe at full-back would deprive the Springboks of a few centimeters in height with le Roux only chosen on the bench, but he has no concerns about the overall size of his back-three selection.

“I don’t know the centimetres but Cheslin is probably a little bit shorter than Willie but Makazole Mapimpi is still the same and when we played against New Zealand, Kurt-Lee was there. So I think in stature they are probably a little bit shorter than what we are used but with Canan being out, that is the cards we have been dealt with and I’m comfortable they will be able to handle whatever Ireland throws their way.”

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