Cheslin Kolbe is the best rugby player in the world – and now his professional playing contract is befitting the game’s most sought after entertainer, writes Mark Keohane.
Kolbe, once he returns from Springboks duty, will transfer from Toulouse to Toulon for an estimated R20 million a year. His new club contract puts him in the Handre Pollard and Charles Piutau bracket of being the highest paid rugby players on the planet.
Kolbe will be the first to acknowledge he owes his international debut to his time at Toulouse, while the French rugby media have been consistent that Kolbe has been among the best and most influential foreign imports in the Top 14.
Domestic rivalry is huge in French club rugby and Kolbe may find it interesting when he does return to Toulouse in the colours of Toulon.
Toulouse, though, could not afford to retain Kolbe and the player’s form over the past four years demanded a contract befitting his performance.
I have often written in the past year that Kolbe is the the best rugby player in the world, and it is a view based on his influence in any game and on his magnetic appeal. People want to watch Kolbe play rugby and people will pay whatever the ground admission is to watch Kolbe.
There aren’t very many players who have that kind of mass appeal of Kolbe. Jonah Lomu was the obvious pioneer when it came to being a global superstar. Christian Cullen had a similar appeal when he was in his prime and most recently Sonny Bill Williams commanded that kind of interest and audience. The All Blacks flyhalf Richie Mo’unga is also in that elite category of ‘must see’ whenever he plays.
Toulon president Bernard Lemaitre told the Toulon daily newspaper Var-Matin that the club had agreed to buy out Kolbe’s final two years of his contract, estimated to be R35 million rand.
‘We promised ourselves that we would henceforth be less dependent on internationals because we paid a heavy price last season,” Lemaitre told Var-Martin. “But this is an exception made for an exceptional player. A lot of things are now favourable to Toulon. It is an important operation and not easy to carry out to be in terms of the salary cap. It’s a really exceptional opportunity, especially since we needed a game winner in the backline. For a more average player, we would not have done it.’
Kolbe will join Springbok Eben Etzebeth at Toulon, while South African born Irish international Quinn Roux and South African-born Scottish international Cornell du Preez are also at Toulon, with the club having a rich history of success with South African players.
Former Springbok flanker Joe van Niekerk has a cult following at Toulon, having captained the side and played 129 times for Toulon a decade ago. Van Niekerk set the tone of excellence when it came to South African players and Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Juan Smith and Bryan Habana were among the most celebrated Springboks whose performances will ensure their place in Toulon folklore. Van Niekerk and Botha are iconic names at Toulon and Kolbe has the potential to be as big as his South African predecessors.
Kolbe played 82 times for Toulouse, scored 172 points and in 2021 won the Top 14 and Heineken Cup.
What Keo.co.za wrote on 21st May, 2021