TOKYO, 22 Sep – The World Cup's opening weekend has produced some scintillating rugby and also announced the arrival of the ‘excitement machine’.
South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe, above, all dancing feet and searing pace, was his team's standout performer in Yokohama on Saturday night, even though the Boks proved unable to resist New Zealand’s attacking prowess as the All Blacks ran out 23-13 winners.
It could have been different, however, had Cheslin - who made 118m in nine carries, almost double anyone else on the pitch, and beat 11 men along the way - managed to escape a last-ditch tackle by Richie Mo’unga after another stunning surge during the second half.
That was a moment All Blacks coach Steve Hansen described as "a match-winner, probably – or close to it" as the score was 17-13 to New Zealand at the time.
Kolbe, who won a Rugby Sevens bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics, the same Games at which his cousin Wayde van Niekerk claimed gold in the 400m, had South Africa fans on their feet every time he got the ball.
He is confident that if he gets a similar chance to score later in the tournament, he will take it.
“He (Mo’unga) showed a good pair of heels, but I think I could have gone a bit quicker to his outside and backed myself,” he said. “I’ll just make sure that whenever there’s another opportunity like that I’ll capitalise.”
It was a night of what might have been for the Boks, who were fancied by many to upset New Zealand. But the world champions once more demonstrated their ability to find a way to win tight games.
“We had a good 10-minute start in the first half, but then there were some loose balls that didn’t stick,” said Kolbe, 25, who hails from Cape Town but plays his club rugby for Toulouse in France. “They just capitalised on our mistakes.
“They played a very good kicking game. The World Cup is not going to be about (just) attacking. There were a few balls we couldn’t handle in the air.
“My first game in a World Cup is a memory I'll take with me throughout my career. It’s not the result we wanted, but it’s a long competition.”