Kolbe: Europe 'more physical' compared to South Africa
INTERVIEW: Springboks star Cheslin Kolbe has opened up about his career so far and his time in France with Toulouse.
In a wide-ranging interview with Virgin Media Sport ahead of his side’s Champions Cup semi-final, which they won 21-9 over Bordeaux, Kolbe revealed some of the difference between playing in Europe and South Africa.
Kolbe hailed Toulouse as a ‘phenomenal’ club to be a part of and credits their free-wheeling philosophy as part of the reason why he was able to push into the Springboks team one year before their World Cup success.
“I’m definitely loving my rugby at Toulouse, it is a phenomenal club to be a part of,” he told Irish journalist Stuart McAvoy of Virgin Media Sport.
“I think just looking down at the history of the club and the players that have been here in the past, just speaks for itself.
“The brand of rugby definitely suits the way I love playing, a bit of the French flair.
“Over the past three or four years that I’ve been here, I’ve definitely learnt a lot about how things work in France and obviously what’s expected from players.”
Since arriving from the Stormers four years ago as a 23-year-old, few expected Kolbe to become a dominant force in Europe and cement a place in the Springboks after being overlooked while in South Africa.
With Toulouse rising back into the Champions Cup after his arrival, Kolbe produced some eye-catching performances on the European stage that piqued the interest of incoming coach Rassie Erasmus.
With the Springboks looking to turn things around after a disastrous 2017 that saw record defeats to the All Blacks and an all-time low World Rugby ranking, Erasmus was prepared to bet on a new generation players.
“Them allowing me to play my natural game, allowing me the freedom to play what’s in front of me, I think that definitely gave me the confidence to show my worth to the rugby world,” he said of that 2018 season.
“Obviously, then I got the opportunity in 2018 after so many years. It just shows you that whenever you leave your country, there are still doors that can be opened.
“I am one of those fortunate players to still get that opportunity to play [for the Springboks] while playing abroad and make my test debut that I’ve always dreamed about.”
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Coming from Super Rugby, Kolbe noted that the diversity of the European competition gave the Northern Hemisphere club competitions an edge in the physicality stakes. He rated the competition as ‘much more physical’ than what he faced in South Africa.
“I think coming from South Africa, also not being one of the biggest boys, you compete against guys from all around, basically,” he said.
“You compete against some of the Island boys, the New Zealand boys, they come over here to play. Playing against teams from Ireland, Wales, and England. Each and every weekend you are competing against guys at the top of their level.
“I think the competition in Europe is much more physical compared to the rugby I’ve been used to back in South Africa.
“Especially in Super Rugby, which is a fast-paced, high-intensity game. Where in Europe, it is more structured. Not as fast but more physical, definitely.”
Since joining Toulouse, Kolbe has seen the rise of France first hand with many of his teammates becoming more prominent figures on the national side over the last few years. Two of those Toulouse-products, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, have become stars of the international game.
Kolbe said they are already ‘outperforming’ bigger names at the international level and said it is ‘scary’ what they will continue to do with their international careers just starting out.
“The two of them are phenomenal athletes, the scary thing about the two is they are still so young and they just seem like they have been there for years,” he said.
“They are also getting a lot of experience at an international level, it just shows how mature they are for their age. I think they are outperforming big names in the game at the moment.
“It’s good for me to play alongside two good young guys and obviously good for us at the club to have them too.”