South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe returns to Toulouse for the first time since his World Cup-winning heroics with teammates relieved “to have him with us rather than against us”.
The 26-year-old is lined up to face Montpellier in the European Champions Cup on Sunday, a little more than a month after scoring a try in the Springboks’ World Cup final victory over England in Japan.
Kolbe only resumed training on Monday but his importance to four-time European champions Toulouse cannot be under-estimated.
As well as being a World Cup and Rugby Championship winner, Kolbe was recently voted Top 14 Player of the Year after helping Toulouse to the domestic title last season.
“We feel much stronger with him,” said French international prop Cyril Baille.
Flyhalf star Romain Ntamack added: “With the autumn that he has had, with all these titles, he has a real dynamism, a joy of life.
“Are we stronger with him? Well, it’s certain that we prefer to have him with us rather than against us.”
Kolbe, who stands at just 1.70m and weighs in at 80kgs, is a huge crowd favourite at the Stade Ernest-Wallon.
When taking his seat in the stands alongside his wife and daughter at recent home games against Connacht and Bayonne, fans screamed his name every time his image flashed on the TV screens.
“Kolbe, Kolbe,” they shouted as memories flooded back of similar vociferous adoration reserved for former expat favourite Byron Kelleher in the 2007-2008 title season.
Despite his success in Japan, Kolbe will not let the accolades go to his head, said teammate and 2011 and 2015 World Cup winner Jerome Kaino.
“We exchanged a few thoughts on our respective experiences as world champions,” said All Blacks back-row forward Kaino.
“We chatted about all the plaudits which will come his way now.
“But he’s a guy with a level head on his shoulders – I don’t have any worries about him.”
Coach Ugo Mola also believes that Kolbe can step out of the limelight and star again for Toulouse.
“From him, I expect the same as we do from our other internationals – a total investment in the club and the team,” said Mola.
“Kolbe is only one member of our fabulous team. However, if Cheslin repeats the performances he has achieved at the highest level, we also know that things will be less complicated for him.”
Toulouse top Pool Five in the European Cup after a 25-20 win over Gloucester and 32-17 victory against Connacht.
However, their domestic form has been patchy – they currently sit at a modest ninth place in the Top 14 table.