Nimble backs with electric pace, fancy footwork and an eye for the intercept are becoming somewhat of an endangered species in professional rugby. Fans flocking to the RDS today, however, will be treated to two such athletes.
A rejuvenated Toulouse travel to Dublin looking to complete the double over the reigning champions, with two points separating the sides at the top of Pool 1.
After a number of fallow years, four-time Heineken Champions Cup winners Toulouse appear to be moving back towards an expansive rugby style that once made them the envy of Europe. More importantly, they are becoming genuine contenders for silverware at home and abroad.
The victory over Leo Cullen’s side back in October was a sign of their intent, but Leinster away represents an even greater challenge for the side currently sitting second behind Clermont in Top 14. For Ugo Mola, Regis Sonnes and the rest of the backroom team, this afternoon will be the real litmus test in the development of their team.
The collective is the cornerstone to any team success - witness a man of the match interview in just about any sport - but individual brilliance can often be the difference in a game of fine margins.
There will be no shortage of potential match-winners, but two players in particular - one from either side - have that X-Factor coursing through their veins.
Irish supporters are more than familiar with one, the other perhaps less so, but Leinster and indeed anyone with more than a passing interest in the Top 14 and Rugby Championship, will be acutely aware of the dangers posed by Cheslin Kolbe.
With that in mind, Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster wondered aloud this week at a media briefing what many keen observers have been thinking in the lead-up to the 11th meeting of the sides in the competition.
"You’d pay money to see Jordan Larmour and Cheslin Kolbe on the same field, wouldn’t you?"
Larmour enjoyed an incredible debut season, winning every competition he partook in and appearing at ease in the Test arena.
Kolbe is also coming off the back of a superb campaign, enhancing his reputation with each and every game he plays.
Both men defy the gravitation towards the hulking physical specimens in a back line. At a modest 5'10", Larmour has almost three inches to spare over the South African.
Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett stated just 18 months ago that a switch to scrum-half represented the then uncapped Kolbe's best chance of excelling at Test level due to his size.
Both speed merchants have a penchant for intercept tries, made their Test debuts in 2018 and can switch comfortably between full-back and wing.
While the 21-year-old has enjoyed a rapid ascension, Kolbe’s story is one more of patience and perseverance.
The Cape Town native represented Western Province at various youth levels and quickly forged a reputation in sevens, spending five years with the Blitz Boks.
In April 2013 he made his Super Rugby debut for the Stormers and that summer Kolbe was part of a South African team that reached the semi-finals of the Junior World Championship, scoring two tries en route to a one-point defeat to Wales at the penultimate stage.
In 2014 Western Province secured a third Currie Cup on the bounce, while the following season, the Stormers couldn’t avail of home advantage against the Brumbies to claim a semi-final spot.
Kolbe however demonstrated his elusiveness in broken play, running in an intercept try from 60 metres out to spark a fight back in a game they would ultimately fall well short in a 39-19 defeat.
Sevens rugby allowed Kolbe exploit his speed and ball handling on a global level when he was selected on South Africa’s team for the 2016 Rio Olympics, a family affair with distant cousin Wayde van Nikerk also part of Team South Africa, a genuine medal prospect in the 400m.
"We spoke about how we will be making history in the family with two members participating at the Olympics," Kolbe said at the time.
"Reality is only sinking in now, and I still have to pinch myself. For the two of us it is a great honour and a privilege for our family to represent our country."
Both would leave Brazil with medals; Kolbe with a bronze, while van Niekerk smashed Michael Johnson’s world record time in becoming the first ever athlete to win gold in the event from lane eight.
In December 2017 a virtuoso individual try against Munster brought Larmour’s profile to a whole new level. A rare talent was quickly emerging.
At the same time in the South of France, Kolbe was helping to restore faith in the idea that Toulouse could yet again become a force to be reckoned with,
After concluding 2016/17 in 12th place - only finishing ahead of relegated Grenoble and Bayonne - Les Rouge et Noir ended the last term in third place before eventual champions Castres ended their interest in the knockout stages.
Last year they lost more games than they won in the Challenge Cup, now they have ambitions of knockout rugby in Europe’s premier club competition. The trajectory is upwards, little surprise with a backline containing the likes of Gael Fickou, Maxime Medard, Antoine Dupont, Sebastian Bezy and the prodigious Romain N'Tamack.
"It’s just great to see these guys in Toulouse playing with heart and wanting to play for each other, I just think that’s what makes them very special this year," former player Trevor Brennan said earlier this week.
Chief among the key performers has been their darting winger Kolbe.
He took like a duck to water to French rugby, so much so that he was named in the Midi Olympique 2018 Team of the Year. The publication also deemed him to be the best overseas signing in his debut campaign.
Dreams of a Springbok call-up, almost dismissed upon his decision to pitch up in France, were realised four months ago in the Rugby Championship, helped by South Africa’s decision to perform a U-turn on picking overseas players.
"I had my doubts because of all the negativity in the media and saying he was too small"
So much for the days of the small winger being consigned to yesteryear.
"I’ve always believed this day would come, but at times I had my doubts because of all the negativity in the media and on social media, critiquing him and saying he was too small, he was this and that," his father Andrew said after the call-up.
Kolbe made his test debut off the bench against Australia in Brisbane, but better was to follow a week later in Wellington when the visitors stunned the world champions.
A crucial intercept try was the headline moment, but of equal importance was thwarting Rieko Ioane, stopping the All Black one-on-one just metres from the line before support arrived.
His second start was the All Blacks’ last-minute victory in Pretoria, where he gave up around five inches and 25kg to his direct opponent Waisake Naholo, a player who on one previous occasion in Super Rugby simply steamrolled the Stormers full-back.
"Kolbe defends better than some players of greater size"
"Kolbe’s defence has improved, but you’ll still get that odd occasion where his size can count against him," says Herman Mostert, a rugby journalist based in Cape Town.
"Having said that, he defends better than some players of greater size."
During the November internationals, against inferior opposition admittedly, Larmour shredded beleaguered Italy time and time again as he notched a hat-trick in Chicago, followed by a start against Argentina and an impressive cameo against the All Blacks.
When Leinster and Toulouse met at Stade Ernest Wallon three months ago, only James Lowe made more metres than the pair, while Kolbe had more clean breaks (3) than anyone else on the pitch.
In December, former St Andrew’s man Larmour rescued victory from the jaws of defeat at the Rec, with a moment Bath utility back James Wilson is unlikely to forget in a hurry.
Jordan Larmour is lightning ⚡️— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 8, 2018
Leinster lead for the first time thanks to an intercept try!
You're just not catching him... pic.twitter.com/XZHxXxdrLF
On the same day, less than 25 miles away, Kolbe was also putting on the after burners en route to a 24-16 victory over Wasps.
Cheslin Kolbe is absolutely lethal coming off that wing 🔥— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 8, 2018
Toulouse go 60+ meters for the try before Wasps knew what hit them!
Just two weeks ago, rampant Toulouse put a ragged Toulon to the sword in a 39-0 drubbing, with Kolbe putting the finishing touches on their fifth and final try of the game.
Larmour has split his time in Leinster colours almost evenly between full-back (where he starts tomorrow) and wing and such versatility is favourable in laying claims at the very least to making a Joe Schmidt squad. With the Six Nations around the corner, there will be further opportunities to shine before the World Cup.
Kolbe too will harbour ambitions of offering something unique for the Springboks who face New Zealand, Italy, Namibia and Canada in Pool B.
"Kolbe brings some much-needed X-factor," says Mostert. "He has that spark and can create something out of nothing. He is not your regular type of Springbok back but maybe that’s what the team would need in a tight knockout game in the World Cup."
Before that there is a lot of rugby to be played and Europe awaits for both this weekend.
Supporters at the RDS and watching on TV could be in for a real treat.