Steven Kitshoff will be back in Cape Town. And he will be back in the DHL Stormers jersey for some time. Think of his time at Belfast’s Ulster as a sabbatical, very much in the same way it was when he spent some time at Bordeaux in France between 2015 and 2017, writes MARK KEOHANE.
The Stormers captain and most capped player in the franchise’s history has had more farewell parties than my 23 year-old son’s friendship group. Every time I look up they are saying goodbye to a mate heading overseas and then they are saying welcome back to the same person. I think it is not so much about the travel of their mate but the joy at celebrating the person and then celebrating them coming back.
Kitshoff is that type of mate for every Stormers player – and supporter. You just want the best for him, you follow his journey, but you know you are going to the airport to pick him up and take him straight to the ‘welcome back’ party.
Kitshoff is the best loosehead prop in the world, but for the Stormers he is just simply the best leader and the most charismatic gentleman among a group of gentlemen, who have transformed the Stormers and convinced 40 000-plus people to pay to watch them in successive play-off matches at the DHL Stadium.
Every week I chat rugby with Stormers coach John Dobson on Ryan O’Connor’s Smile FM Breakfast show and Dobbo made it clear that Kitshoff was heading to Belfast for a worldly experience and not to end his playing career.
Kitshoff, a URC winner and a World Cup winner with the Springboks, is just 31 year-old. Born in Somerset West and schooled at the famed Paul Roos Gymnasium, he is good enough and young enough to play into the 2030’s.
Dobbo said Kitshoff had seven to eight years left in him if managed correctly.
He wasn’t joking.
Realistically, it may be five years, which takes him to another World Cup at 36 years-old, but at a regional and domestic level, he could go to 40 years-old.
We’ve seen it with players like Brok Harris, who went overseas and played 100-plus games in another country and has returned to Cape Town and played for the Stormers and Western Province.
Deon Fourie is another. He left for France for eight years, came back to play a mentoring role for Western Province’s next generation and ended up becoming the oldest player on debut for the Springboks.
I have been fortunate to report on and write about Kitshoff’s career, from his schoolboy days in Stellenbosch to his World Cup final winning performance against England in Japan in 2019, and I can’t recall him ever having played a poor game.
He doesn’t tolerate the ‘off-day’ and he doesn’t relate to any form of mediocrity.
In a sport where the No 10 is usually the poster boy, in Cape Town it is Kitshoff’s No 1 that is the sought after poster.
If Shane Warne made every kid want to bowl leg spin, then Kitshoff is the inspiration to kids, capable in size, of wanting to play loose-head prop.
He scrums with strength, plays with skill and captains with intelligence. When the sport introduced the ‘captain’s call’ for a season, Kitshoff challenged the referee on several occasions in every game and he never got it wrong.
Most marvel at his rugby playing ability, but it is this leadership that has defined his career for me at the Stormers and Western Province. He has played 71 Tests for the Springboks and only injury will prevent him from playing 100 Tests.
He has not decided to leave Cape Town because he doesn’t want to play his rugby there anymore, but because he is supporting his partner’s career path.
There is such depth to this bloke and it is not exclusive to the way he anchors the Stormers scrum.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) May 26, 2023