Tuesday 17 September 2019

Leinster must be at their best to nullify major threat posed by Kolbe

Analysis

Toulouse’s Cheslin Kolbe could cause problems for the Leinster defence at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow. Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Toulouse’s Cheslin Kolbe could cause problems for the Leinster defence at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow. Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

It's a simple, yet devastatingly effective game-plan - get your most lethal strike runner on the ball as often as possible.

The panic that Cheslin Kolbe spreads in opposition defences every time he is in possession is a special quality that very few players in Europe can replicate.

Image 1
Image 1

When most people think of the lightning-quick Springbok winger, the first thing that comes to mind is his dancing footwork and scintillating acceleration in broken-field play.

Plenty of Toulouse's strike-plays have been designed to get Kolbe into open space as quickly as possible, but what has been interesting to note this season is how often the French side have been using the 25-year-old as first receiver off attacking set-pieces.

Whereas in most cases, it will be the out-half who will run the play, Toulouse regularly use Kolbe as the play-maker, which is something that Leinster will undoubtedly have done their homework on ahead of tomorrow's mouthwatering Champions Cup semi-final.

Leinster have already seen first-hand the damage Kolbe can cause as he was a threat throughout Toulouse's win at home, before he scored a stunning late consolation try at the RDS in January.

Image 2
Image 2

Last weekend against Clermont, Kolbe served up another treat for his ever-growing highlights reel when he slipped, managed to get to his feet and then turned on the afterburners to score a sensational individual try.

"He's unbelievable, isn't he," Toulouse lock Richie Gray says of his team-mate.

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"He can really make something out of nothing, like last weekend. It's just silly stuff - you can't believe it is possible.

"You can't touch him. You try and tackle his shadow. That's the best you can do. He really is pretty impressive."

Image 3
Image 3

Using a diminutive winger as first receiver is an interesting tactic and it is one that has been a hallmark of Toulouse's European campaign.

We are regularly seeing the back-line setting up with a pod of two or three players outside of Kolbe, which keeps the defence guessing.

During Toulouse's first meeting with Leinster back in October, Kolbe was a nightmare to defend against as the Top 14 leaders unleashed their pocket rocket off the set-piece.

In image 1 above, we can see how Toulouse have set up off a scrum on the right hand side of the pitch.

Image 4
Image 4

Kolbe (yellow) is positioned where you would usually expect an out-half to be, but instead, Zack Holmes is part of the two-man pod in midfield.

Holmes runs an arching loop off his outside centre Sofiane Guitoune (blue), who in turn is running a direct, hard line at the Leinster defence.

The animation from both players is key and it is also important to highlight Maxime Medard (orange) who has his hand up for the ball on the left wing.

Shoulder

Joe Tomane (red) isn't sure whether to fold out onto Medard or stay tight to Garry Ringrose on his inside shoulder.

Kolbe takes the ball to the line and steps inside Luke McGrath and Josh van der Flier. Suddenly the Leinster defence is scrambling and they have James Lowe (pictured) to thank for snuffing out the danger. Nevertheless, it was an early warning sign.

Image 5
Image 5

Later in the same game, we see a similar scenario, in image 2, with a scrum on the opposite side of the pitch.

The two-man pod (blue) is in midfield and this time Kolbe (yellow) opts to pass. Just out of shot, the width is held on the far wing with Tomane (red) defending narrowly again.

In the following round, it was Wasps who felt the full brunt of the South African's power as they evidently hadn't done their homework on this move.

Image 6
Image 6

As we highlighted in the Leinster game, Toulouse set up (image 3) with Kolbe (yellow) as first receiver off a scrum and this time he has a pod of three players (blue) tightly-bunched running off him, while Yoann Huget hugs the touchline.

Note how his head is looking up and his body is positioned as if to play the pass. Kolbe spots a gap however, and runs a searing line (black) through it to score one of the tries of the tournament. Again, it is Toulouse's animation on and off the ball that engages the move.

Looking at the game at the RDS, in which Leinster largely dominated, Kolbe was again a threat throughout.

Early on, we see a very similar picture (image 4), with Kolbe (yellow) coming in off his wing from a scrum on the right.

The three-man pod (blue) of Thomas Ramos, Romain Ntamack and Guitoune run hard lines at the defence, while Huget (orange) forces Adam Byrne (red) to second guess himself about biting in or folding out.

Seventeen minutes later (image 5), Toulouse win a scrum in a similar position of their own half, but this time the French side vary the power play and the outstanding Antoine Dupont goes down the blindside for Kolbe (yellow), who offers himself as first receiver.

James Lowe of Leinster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
James Lowe of Leinster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Leinster do well on both occasions to spoil the move, but just before half time they struggled to do so.

While all of the aforementioned examples came off scrums, on this occasion (image 6), Toulouse launch a variation of the same strike-play off a lineout.

Again, Dupont links with Kolbe (yellow), who has the two-man pod of Ramos and Guitoune (blue) as options with Huget (orange) offering the width against Byrne (red).

Kolbe makes it into the Leinster 22 before Leinster are forced to concede a penalty, which allows Toulouse to cut the half-time deficit.

Robbie Henshaw's return in defence will be crucial tomorrow, particularly in terms of the line speed that he will bring in shutting down Kolbe's options.

Leinster must cut off the supply line at source, which means the set-piece battle, both at scrum and lineout time, will be crucial. Like Henshaw, Devin Toner's return is timely in that regard.

Recognising Kolbe's threat as first receiver off the set-piece is one thing, nullifying it is another. If Leinster can do so, they will eliminate one of Toulouse's most potent weapons.

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