One last hurrah for Steven Kitshoff
LEIGHTON KOOPMAN firstname.lastname@example.org
African News Agency
IT’S GOODBYE but not farewell to Stormers captain and stalwart prop Steven Kitshoff as he prepares to greet the DHL Stadium and Stormers supporters in Cape Town for one last hurrah in today’s semi-final against Connacht. And although he is leaving the place he has known for most, if not all of his rugby career, he left the door slightly ajar for a return to end his illustrious career in front of the Faithful and his home province. Ulster and Belfast await after his final United Rugby Championship campaign and his 10-plus years in Cape Town come to an end (for now), but it is a journey Kitshoff, 31, can look back on with fond memories. There is, of course, the slight chance of hosting a home final if Munster beat Leinster in the other final, but this semi-final is being treated as his (second) swansong after last weekend’s quarter-final against the Bulls. “As long as Dobbo (John Dobson, Stormers coach) wants me, I will always come back to the Stormers,” Kitshoff said, while looking at his coach with a side smile. “Cape Town is home for me. I just had the opportunity to go overseas again and I’ve spoken to Dobbo and he is keen to have me back. So I am just going to go for a stint and keep the lines of communication open. “Financially it made sense (to go overseas), and it was also a good opportunity to get some experience, so I felt like I had to take it. Before I made the decision I spoke to Marcell Coetzee and Ruan (Pienaar), them and Duane (Vermeulen), who is there at this stage. They were all very happy at Ulster and there’s a good team culture. “But I am keen to come back, the Stormers will always be my home.” For Kitshoff it feels like only yesterday he stepped into the Stormers jersey, and he remembers 2011 very fondly when he made his debut as an 18-year-old for Allister Coetzee’s team. He was fresh out of school, but quickly established himself as a prop to be reckoned with. “I always lived in Cape Town – Stellenbosch and Somerset West at school – so I’ve always been a big Stormers supporter, especially when I started playing for them, it meant so much more. “It’s been a long road since representing them at Craven Week level as a schoolboy. I had a couple of heroes, especially when I went to high school and understood the game a bit more – guys like Andries Bekker and Schalk Burger and those okes, who I had the opportunity to play with. “Those were the guys who stood out for me, and I always wished I could play like them and move like them, but unfortunately I ate too much as a kid so I went to the front row. The 2006 to 2010 Stormers team was just incredible. “It also feels like just the other day that I put a Stormers jersey on for the first time. I remember my first (Super Rugby) tour with the team. “It’s been an incredible journey, and I would not change it for the world.” Even if Kitshoff joked that he ate too much and had to move to the front row, it’s in the loosehead position where he grafted and made himself a household name, not just in the colours of the two Cape teams, but also in the Springbok jersey. He was part of the Junior Springboks that won the 2012 Junior World Championship in Cape Town. But probably the biggest honour came when he helped the Springboks lift the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Other Bok accolades include a series victory over the British & Irish Lions in a tough Covid-19 environment. What Kitshoff is not looking forward to, though, is possibly returning to Cape Town next season in the colours of Ulster. In the Ulster jersey, he can expect a few jeers from the unforgiving Faithful. For now, however, he wants to enjoy the last spell in the Stormers jersey and, hopefully, they can make it to back-to-back finals and URC titles. After that, he will leave for Belfast with a happy heart.