Cheslin Kolbe says the British and Irish Lions’ 2009 tour of South Africa made him fall “more and more in love with the game”.
Springboks star Kolbe, who lines up for Toulouse in Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final against La Rochelle at Twickenham, was a 15-year-old schoolboy when South Africa and the Lions fought out a memorable Test series.
The Springboks clinched it 2-1, and World Cup-winning wing Kolbe is set to be a pivotal part of their bid for a repeat performance this summer.
“2009 was the first time I ever got my provincial colours back home, and that was the same year when the British and Irish Lions toured South Africa,” he said.
“I was always in love with the game, but that’s when I definitely fell more and more in love with the game.
“Just watching it on television, the majority of supporters in the stadiums were wearing red jerseys and the atmosphere all around was insane. I have never seen South Africa as crazy as what it was back in 2009.
“It (the Lions tour) comes every 12 years, and for us as players you definitely want to give yourself an opportunity to be a part of that group, and just make sure that you keep performing week in and week out to showcase to the coaches and the selectors back in South Africa.”
Kolbe scored a try when South Africa beat England 32-12 in the World Cup final 18 months ago, but the Springboks have not played since, amid the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions.
“It has been a year and a half now without any international rugby, and I am actually quite excited to see how the boys are going to be going,” he added.
“I know once you pull on that green and gold jersey, you just leave everything out on the field, and I am sure that once the group has been announced we will definitely have good preparation leading up to the Lions tour.”
Kolbe could end the summer by completing a significant treble of World Cup, European Cup and a Test series victory over the Lions.
But all his current focus is on Toulouse’s Twickenham challenge and a possible record fifth European title, 25 years after they were inaugural tournament winners and 11 years on from their last triumph.
Kolbe’s box-office quality on the sport’s biggest stages make him a key weapon in Toulouse’s attempt to collect another European crown and nudge one ahead of Irish heavyweights Leinster.
“I must say the players and the coaching staff just backed me all the way,” he added.
“They just gave me the freedom to play what is in front of me, and Toulouse has definitely played a massive part in my success throughout the years.”
And Kolbe admits that sometimes he is not sure what is going to happen next when it comes to his phenomenal game-breaking ability.
“To be honest, most of it is probably pure instinct,” he said.
“Sometimes, I am not too sure what I am going to be doing – my body just completely takes over.
“At times, I do look at the body language or the way defenders approach me whenever I have the ball, whether I have to step to the inside or just keep going on the outside, or just swerve completely infield.
“To be honest with you, sometimes after a game, I just look at clips or analyse the way I’ve played and sometimes I ask myself how did I get out of trouble?”