Cape Town – If every cloud has a silver lining, then it arguably comes in the shape of a certain Oliver Kebble in these parts.
Western Province and the Stormers, not long from now, will bid a reluctant goodbye to Steven Kitshoff, the burly loosehead prop who has served them so well for five seasons since his first-class debut while still a callow teenager in 2011.
Kitshoff, 23, has signed for French club Bordeaux and moves on at the end of the Currie Cup season.
For a franchise desperately wishing to win Super Rugby for the first time, after a few near-misses, it seems a blow of some significance – not least because the flame-haired specimen was one of the most acclaimed scrummagers and carriers in a No 1 jersey during this year’s competition when the Stormers bossed the local conference.
He is also considered a little unlucky – among others, by the great Os du Randt – not to be gracing the imminent RWC 2015, having been inconveniently curtailed by injury during the lead-up Test season and then overlooked as Tendai Mtawarira and Trevor Nyakane banked the main two loosehead berths in the Springbok World Cup squad.
But if Newlands is losing one gifted young front-ranker almost certainly not yet in his prime, it seems increasingly apparent that the even more mountainous (125kg, some five kilos heftier) Kebble could fill the void with more than a little aplomb.
In a shrewd move that effectively acknowledges how important Kitshoff has been to their plans, the bosses at Newlands beefed their loosehead resources for next year by snapping up the extremely useful, mobile JC Janse van Rensburg – a popular former Lions captain – from Bayonne from November 1.
There is still Alistair Vermaak, too, as another suitably stout candidate for life in a post-Kitshoff landscape ... but my own money is gradually, more invitingly leaning toward Kebble as likeliest first-pick in the position when remodelled Super Rugby 2016 comes around.
He is coming on in leaps and bounds now, happily identified purely as a “left shoulder” specialist and no longer the subject of experimentation on the tighthead side, a tactic that is questionably being applied to someone like the Sharks’ Thomas du Toit.
Kebble did, of course, play some rugby at No 3 during the victorious IRB Junior World Championship by the Baby Boks in 2012, when the main guy on the other side of the front row was ... yes, Steven Kitshoff.
It was not without its traumas and he is mercifully now plying his trade wholly where he should be, as a loosehead, with the greater scope that brings for some marauding ball-in-hand activity.
In that regard, Kebble is shaping up for WP as pleasingly as he is in the set-piece; every time he receives the “pill” in open play, he seems to offer a high prospect of assertive yardage in roughly the manner that made Coenie Oosthuizen famous before he became another to fall victim to the irksome utility-prop quest.
Just for the moment, Kebble may remain first officer in the Province loosehead pecking order to chief pilot Kitshoff, as it were – in other words, impact substitute.
It worked like a charm again on Saturday, when first Kitshoff gave the inexperienced Sharks No 3 Gerhard Engelbrecht a tough time in the scrums, and then Kebble helped finish him off, if you like, with even greater vigour – including sending him skyward once, the ultimate prop’s indignity.
He also didn’t take a backward step when the Sharks shuffled their front row and Kebble then went head to head for a while with Du Toit – on both sides of the scrum, if memory serves correctly.
All of this happened under the watchful eye of Kebble’s ample-girthed father Guy, the four-Test Springbok of the early 1990s, who was part of a reunion occasion for Sharks icons of the past and might have had some mixed feelings on the day – although he was once also a Province man before his switch to Durban.
Coach John Dobson will probably stick largely to the tried and trusted, especially as his charges produced a more urgent second-half performance to transform deficit into decisive victory at Kings Park, for the attractive challenge of the Blue Bulls at Newlands on Friday (19:00).
That would mean Kitshoff again starting in the No 1 shirt, with the expectation that an eager Kebble would provide fresh legs at some point between the 50th and 60th minutes – both men may find themselves grappling the Springbok-capped tighthead Marcel van der Merwe, another good test for the emerging latter in particular.
What makes Kebble’s rise really pleasing for both WP and Stormers is that he has every bit as much time at his disposal as Kitshoff does to reach maximum potential, even if the departing prop may now do so on faraway fields.
The two were born only four months apart during 1992 -- and Kebble is the younger player.
So it might be a case of out with the “old” (inverted commas very much intended due to Kitshoff’s enduring youth, of course) at Newlands ... but the “new” doesn’t look too bad at all.
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