Cape Town - Steven Kitshoff was in training with the Stormers on Monday and while coach Robbie Fleck is delighted to see the Springbok back in the thick of things at his former franchise, it does leave him with a dilemma.
Kitshoff’s contract with French club Bordeaux officially ends on 30 June, which means he is available to play for the Stormers in their Super Rugby derby against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday. What team would not want Kitshoff to play for them after the outstanding contribution he made as a replacement to the Boks in their 3-0 series triumph against France?
However, it is not as simple as that for Fleck. On one hand he wants Kitshoff to play as he wants his team to hit the winning track and build up momentum ahead of the play-off phase, which the Stormers are now assured of getting to (they need one log point to be absolutely sure, but realistically the race for top spot in their section has been run).
On the other hand though the Stormers are going to have to dig up a good reason for Kitshoff to be available for the knock-out stage because at the moment he doesn’t qualify. He can only play a maximum of three games for the Stormers in the league phase of the competition, which is short of the minimum requirement for a player not listed in the squad at the start of the season.
Fleck says he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Kitshoff playing for the Stormers in the play-offs, but it does seem unlikely, which means that selecting him for the matches building up to that point might be counter-productive to the aim of building continuity.
“He is available to play for us this week but at this point he isn’t available for the quarter-final, semi-final and final so we’d have to look at it and weigh it up,” said Fleck.
“There are ways a player in his position can be included. For instance if there are too many injuries in one position and you are down to players who don’t boast Super Rugby experience, then you can apply for the player to be cleared. But at this point we are not sure he will be available for us, so we have to weigh up the need to field the best team to win in Bloemfontein with other considerations relating to the play-offs.”
As it turns out, the Stormers are down on resources in Kitshoff’s position, loosehead prop. JC Janse van Rensburg is available to play in Bloemfontein, but Oli Kebble and Ali Vermaak are both struggling with injuries. Kebble is expected back for the last home league match against the Sunwolves on 8 July.
Also expected back for that game will be Bok centre Damian de Allende, who is continuing his recovery from the injury sustained in the match against the Sharks at the end of May that kept him from being part of the Bok squad that played against France.
Back in the mix this week after missing the defeat to the Sharks is flanker Rynhardt Elstadt, but Fleck won’t be able to consider talented young inside centre Dan du Plessis, who dislocated his shoulder playing for Western Province against the SWD Eagles in the Supersport Challenge on Sunday.
With De Allende out and Scotland international Hugh Jones, who is back in training, only due back in the selection next week, Fleck has something to think about at centre. Juan de Jongh made his comeback as a replacement against the Sharks and is due for a start, but former Highlander Shaun Treeby is also now available again after completing the suspension that he incurred after being cited following the Newlands win over the Blues. EW Viljoen is the other centre in the frame and as he has played in every game he should be expected to wear the No 13 in Bloemfontein.
With all those players expected to be available from the Sunwolves game onwards, Fleck will have an abundance of midfield resources, with De Allende, De Jongh and Jones all boasting international experience.