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 Mountain.
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 regime.
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 …
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