Vodacom Super Rugby
Kitshoff ban secret blessing?
Pat Cilliers (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Young loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff’s rare, one-match suspension comes at a bad time in fixture terms for the Stormers, but it may also be a blessing in disguise in some respects.
The flame-haired campaigner - considering the volume of first-class rugby he has already played, it seems hard to believe he only turned 21 last month - has increasingly bedded himself down as his franchise’s first choice in the No 1 jersey.
So missing out on the likely, considerable Super Rugby challenge of the Crusaders’ stocky All Black tighthead Owen Franks at scrum-time at Newlands on Saturday (19:10 kick-off) is an unfortunate development for the Cape side, near-permanently jinxed by an injury virus which thins their resources further - they just never seem able to field a genuine A-team on paper.
Reading between the lines, the Stormers are also a little miffed over his short-term ban for a perceived dangerous tackle on Brumbies flyhalf Matt Toomua last weekend, although head coach Allister Coetzee has just about managed to keep his lips diplomatically sealed on the issue.
The glamorous, seven-time title-winning Crusaders remain one of the most potent Super Rugby forces as a scrummaging unit, and Kitshoff was seemingly earmarked to play his part in the taxing quest to thwart them until his citing and suspension.
But clouds can also have silver linings, and just maybe the enforced absence of the Paul Roos product is no bad thing at this point.
It does, after all, provide an opportunity for the versatile Springbok Pat Cilliers to slightly belatedly show his worth as a new recruit after an unremarkable start to his Stormers career.
The former Lions and Sharks stalwart, though more accustomed to tighthead, is expected to fill the void on the other side of the front row when the Capetonians reveal their line-up on Wednesday morning.
That is particularly likely because veteran Deon Carstens is not fully fit yet for consideration for a start.
Cilliers is not the most “powerhouse” tighthead in physical terms the world has ever seen, although his work ethic around the park and some credible scrum showings off the Bok bench last year meant he arrived in the Cape to approving local nods.
But after starting at No 3 for the 2013 opener against the Bulls at Loftus, where the Stormers got their campaign off on the back foot in every sense, Cilliers has since been pushed back to substitute duty by another of the team’s front-row greenhorns, Frans Malherbe.
If anyone suspects Cilliers is actually more suited to loosehead, they will have a wonderful opportunity to see their theory tested if he is, indeed, chosen to combat the wiles and undoubted muscularity of Franks on Saturday.
Another aspect to consider is that Kitshoff, over the past two seasons, has tended to be one of the most overworked members of the Stormers’ tight five.
For instance, when many of his team-mates enjoyed a three-week Super Rugby breather during the 2012 “Test window” period, the barrel-chested campaigner was plunged straight into the demands - often with short game turnarounds - of the IRB Junior World Championship where he played a particularly prominent role in the Baby Boks’ victory in the final over New Zealand.
So this enforced extra week off for Kitshoff should have some positive spinoffs in a “refreshment” sense for him, even granted that the Stormers are not long off a collective bye anyway.
But also to chew on is the player’s slightly worrying penchant for conceding engagement-related penalties at the set scrums this season.
Even if they are certainly not always right, statistics paint a fairly stark picture of Kitshoff’s indiscretions.
If the website www.rugbystats.com.au is to be believed, he has been blown up for penalties 10 times, twice more than any other player in the competition and four times more than the next South African violator, the Bulls’ fetcher and reasonably serial offender Deon Stegmann.
There was much discussion around Kitshoff’s undesirable trend among the SuperSport studio pundits, even in the wake of the otherwise sterling 35-22 triumph over the previously unbeaten Brumbies.
As usual, the front-ranker played his part prolifically and fervently in the tackle department, but as former Bok coach Nick Mallett noted, rightly or wrongly Kitshoff is earning an increasing “reputation” among referees whenever scrums go down and the whistle-men are on the reflex hunt for people to blame.
A wee trip to the drawing board might be no bad thing as the emerging loosehead takes a hiatus from match-play.
This is also a window of opportunity for Cilliers, of course ... if he holds his own against likely direct opponent Franks and simultaneously avoids the “pinging” wrath of the referee (in this case it will Craig Joubert) at the set-piece, he may be en route to greater deployment in the run-on XV.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing