Steven Kitshoff believes his experiences in France will stand him in good stead during Saturday’s third Test against Ireland, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Port Elizabeth.
Kitshoff is one of three uncapped players on a Bok bench that has just 86 caps worth of experience, with Morné Steyn adding 61 Tests to that tally.
Although it is an inexperienced bench, it’s also easy to overlook the fact that despite his relatively tender age of 24, Kitshoff boasts 60 Super Rugby caps of experience earned over a five-year spell with the Stormers, which preceded his move to French club Bordeaux.
Kitshoff was just 18 years old when he was first drafted into the Stormers’ setup in 2011, and had to get permission from his parents and World Rugby to make the transition from Paul Roos Gymnasium to Super Rugby.
He quickly established himself as one of the young and bright front-row stars in South African rugby, but in 2015 made the relatively shocking decision to move to Bordeaux, where he believed he’d have the opportunity to hone his technique in the hostile scrumming environment of French rugby.
By all accounts, it has been a move that has paid off, and although Kitshoff was in line to play for the Boks against a World XV side last year, another knee injury scuppered his chances to stake a claim for World Cup selection.
Yet, the high regard for Kitshoff was once again illustrated when he was included as one of just three overseas-based players in Allister Coetzee’s first squad, and on Saturday, he will finally have the opportunity to make his long-awaited debut.
‘I’m nervous, happy and everything in between,’ he commented after Thursday’s team announcement. ‘The transition back to the Boks was very easy, the coaches have all been great, and hopefully with my time playing in the northern hemisphere I will be able to bring that experience to the table on Saturday.’
Kitshoff admitted there had been some talk of him returning to play his rugby in South Africa in the future, but he also reiterated that his time in France had been a good learning experience.
‘I feel I’ve gained a lot when it comes to scrum time and in general play. That’s what I can hopefully bring into this game. Obviously I’m a bit nervous, but I do feel I am ready. I’ll be aiming to bring a real intensity at scrum time and to hopefully make the desired impact off the bench.’
Earlier this week, Bok assistant coach Matt Proudfoot, who worked extensively with Kitshoff at the Stormers, said they would need to temper the youngster’s enthusiasm, but also channel that into a physical and effective performance on Saturday.
Kitshoff said it was great to once again be working alongside his long-time mentor.
‘Matt and I are very close and to be working with him again is fantastic. We had five years together at the Stormers, so now we’re looking to pick up where we left off. Matt’s helped me a lot with my scrum technique and breakdown drills, and he’s also been a great motivational coach.’
Allister Coetzee, who also oversaw Kitshoff’s progression at Western Province and the Stormers, said he was confident that the flame-haired front rower would make a meaningful impression in open play and at the set pieces.
‘I’m really exciting for Kitsie, he’s a strong ball-carrier as a loosehead and he’s defensively very solid. He runs good lines and that’s what we’ll be looking for him to bring, while certainly not neglecting his primary roles such as scrummaging.’
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