Cheslin Kolbe reminded rugby fans of some of the trickery that lit up Rugby World Cup 2019 in scoring two brilliantly-taken tries as Toulouse easily overcame Ulster 36-8 in Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final.
The wing wizard showed the class that wowed everyone in Japan at the beginning and end of the first half at the Stade Ernest Wallon as he twice stepped inside Ireland wing Jacob Stockdale to help his side into a 15-3 lead at the break.
The ‘aristocrats of European rugby’ kicked on from there to comfortably brush aside the PRO14 finalists. They now face Gallagher Premiership Exeter Chiefs in next Saturday’s semi-final, with the winner taking on either Racing 92 or Saracens in the showpiece match a week later.
The gift that keeps on giving, South African dynamo @Cheslin_Kolbe11 @Dupont9A flings over a wonderful pass before the winger shows off some trademark dazzling footwork and scores— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) September 21, 2020
A worthy Try of The Round?
You decide https://t.co/ZhgH2SHQb2 pic.twitter.com/6rKtG3X4uY
If Toulouse can go all the way and become the first team to lift the cup five times since the tournament’s inception 25 years ago, Kolbe will join the likes of fellow Springboks Bryan Habana and Schalk Brits in winning both the Rugby World Cup and the Heineken Champions Cup.
Kolbe’s RWC 2019-winning team-mate, Vincent Koch, is another contender from this year’s competition after his Saracens side also made it through to the last four.
Koch’s destructive scrummaging helped to lay the platform for the victory at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, which was effectively sealed when Alex Goode scooted over for a fine individual try.
After ending Leinster’s 23-match winning run in all competitions, Saracens will be full of belief that they can go all the way and claim a fourth title in five seasons.
As for RWC 2007 champion Habana, he achieved the double when part of the star-studded Toulon side that conquered all in 2014 and 2015, while Brits featured in both of Saracens’ 2016 and 2017 victories before staging a remarkable international comeback to feature in the Springboks’ triumph in 2019.
Flanker Schalk Burger, a Springbok team-mate of Habana’s in 2007, was alongside Brits in the Saracens line-up in 2017.
Double despair for Carter
Dan Carter is one notable absentee from the list of dual Rugby World Cup/Heineken Champions Cup winners, despite the highly-decorated fly-half enjoying two spells in French club rugby.
The lure of playing in Europe’s elite club competition enticed Carter to Perpignan in 2008 and he promptly scored 16 points on his Heineken Champions Cup debut against Leicester.
However, that was to be the three-time World Rugby Player of the Year winner’s (2005, 2012, 2015) only appearance in the competition for the Catalan club because of a season-ending Achilles injury.
Carter did have another crack at the Heineken Champions Cup later on in his career, after twice winning the Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks, in 2011 and 2015, when he moved to Racing 92.
The Parisian outfit made the final in 2016, but Carter was eclipsed by his opposite number that day, Owen Farrell kicking all of Saracens’ points from seven penalties in a 21-9 win in Lyon.
All Blacks Chris Masoe (Toulon), Bryon Kelleher (Toulouse) and Jamison Gibson Park (Leinster) all won the Heineken Champions Cup but never the Rugby World Cup, leaving Brad Thorn in splendid isolation.
One of the finest cross-code forwards in rugby history, Thorn brought the curtain down on his 59-cap test career in the best possible style when New Zealand ended their 24-year wait to be crowned world champions again by winning RWC 2011 on home soil.
Then, the following year, Thorn achieved another career highlight when he lifted the Heineken Champions Cup with Leinster. Aged 37, Thorn was the oldest player to win the competition. “When I held up the cup with Brian O'Driscoll,” he proclaimed, “that was just gold.”
As a member of Toulon’s treble-winning side, Matt Giteau has been Australia’s most successful export when it comes to the Heineken Champions Cup. But his international career, and that of Toulon team-mate Drew Mitchell and Leinster trio – Rocky Elsom, Chris Whitaker (both 2009) and Scott Fardy (2018) – followed on from the last of the Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup victories in 1999.
2001 Heineken Champions Cup winner Pat Howard won the last of his 20 Wallabies caps two years before Australia got their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup for the second time at the end of the last millennium.
Many of his Leicester team-mates from that era – they went on to become the first side to go ‘back-to-back' following their 2002 victory over Munster – formed the nucleus of England’s RWC 2003-winning squad, not least captain Martin Johnson.
Ben Kay, Johnson’s second-row partner, and tearaway flankers Neil Back and Lewis Moody were integral to England’s cause, while Martin Corry and Dorian West were invaluable squad members out in Australia.
Wasps, with RWC 2003 winners such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Josh Lewsey, Simon Shaw and Joe Worsley, went on to replace Leicester as England's dominant force in Europe, with that quartet playing in both of the club's victories in 2004 and 2007. Prop Phil Vickery featured in the second victory against Tigers at Twickenham.
Meanwhile, half-backs Matt Dawson and Paul Grayson and winger Ben Cohen tasted success with 2000 winners Northampton Saints before becoming household names three years later as members of the historic England Rugby World Cup-winning squad.
Jonny Wilkinson played the majority of his club rugby with Newcastle, a side that never got close to Heineken Champions Cup glory and he had to wait until the latter stages of his career to fulfil that goal, with Toulon. Having waited for ages, two winner's medals suddenly came one after another in 2013 and 2014.
While Wilkinson was the man who kicked England to victory on that memorable night in Sydney in November 2003, it was Mike Catt who brought an end to the final of Rugby World Cup 2003 when he booted the ball into the Telstra Stadium. Catt was in the team when Bath became the first English winners in Europe in 1998.
By our reckoning, only 20 players in the 25-year history of the Heineken Champions Cup – half of them English – also have Rugby World Cup winner entered on their CV.
Soon, we’ll find out if Kolbe or Koch can join the pantheon of greats.