Cape Town – Steven Kitshoff’s patient wait
to play international rugby, despite several compelling Vodacom Super Rugby
campaigns, suddenly seems a lot closer to reward.
It would not surprise this writer in the
slightest if the confirmed appointment of Allister Coetzee as Springbok head
coach on Tuesday soon sees the burly loosehead prop’s name being included in
his first, broad national squad.
Still only 24 -- although he seems to have
been on the first-class rugby scene for a lot longer than his age suggests --
it is safe to say that Kitshoff was a consistent favourite of Coetzee’s in his
long and often successful tenure as Stormers mastermind between 2010 and 2015.
When the new Bok coach left Newlands last
year, Kitshoff also bade farewell to the Stormers/WP fold and headed for a fresh
challenge with Bordeaux.
But Coetzee had the confidence to first
introduce the barrel-chested prop to the rigours of Super Rugby as early as
2011, when the player was a callow 18 and all of SARU governing body, medical
and parental permission had to be granted for his introduction to a senior
front row at that extraordinary age.
Kitshoff became a virtual ever-present,
whenever fully fit, in the starting Stormers line-up during a period which
included three SA conference-winning mantles for the franchise, and had amassed
some 60 caps in the competition before his departure for France.
In a departure press conference before he
left for a coaching post in Japan, Coetzee said in July 2015 that Kitshoff had
been “superb as loosehead prop” and urged the Stormers to recruit another
“senior loosehead” to fill what he clearly considered a substantial void.
Director of rugby Gert Smal duly, wisely
signed the experienced JC Janse van Rensburg to replenish stocks in the No 1
jersey, although the Stormers do still boast on their books another bright
young prospect in Oli Kebble.
Kitshoff never earned full green-and-gold
honours during Heyneke Meyer’s four-year Bok coaching tenure, although he was
consistently one of the most destructive South African scrummagers, and an increasingly
assertive ball-carrier, in Super Rugby.
In fairness, ill-luck intervened last year just
as Meyer – who had him in his wider training squad -- was making very
favourable noises about giving Kitshoff a crack in the shortened Rugby
Championship ahead of RWC 2015.
The prop damaged knee ligaments in a
training session at Cape Town Stadium, which kept him out of that tournament
and later led to Meyer favouring seasoned incumbent Tendai Mtawarira and Trevor
Nyakane as his World Cup looseheads, with back-up if required from the
versatile Coenie Oosthuizen.
A little like Meyer initially,
unapologetically did in his era as Bok coach by pinning strong faith in “who he
knew” from his Bulls days for his earliest national squads or teams, successor
Coetzee may understandably at first show a partiality toward various
Newlands-based players he groomed over several years in the shadow of Table
That list would almost certainly include
Kitshoff, even if he is now based abroad.
At least for the moment, Coetzee has
already indicated that the “status quo” prevails as far as acceptable use of
overseas Boks is concerned.
SARU will doubtless not wish for too many
players plying their trade in foreign climes to crack the nod at the expense of
home-based ones, but at the same time a few falling into the first-named
category are now out of the running for further Bok involvement anyway.
Of the RWC 2015 squad, for example, Fourie
du Preez (Suntory Sungoliath) has retired, whilst Ulster’s veteran Ruan
Pienaar, Zane Kirchner of Leinster and Schalk Brits (Saracens) will almost
certainly be considered surplus to requirements under the Coetzee-spearheaded
When Kitshoff left for France, there was
some fear locally that the gifted prospect might attempt to qualify for that
country – a la someone like CJ Stander for Ireland -- although SARU have
subsequently closed that loophole.
Players who represented South Africa at the
IRB Junior World Championships from 2012 onward may no longer be considered for
other countries … and that, thus, includes Kitshoff who won the event with the
Baby Boks in 2012.
Even if he did ever harbour intentions of
trying the France Test-match route, the installation of Coetzee makes it far
likelier that full Springbok honours twinkle much more brightly again for the
Paul Roos product …
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing