Big test for red-hot Kitshoff


Fast-forward to this weekend and there will be no love lost between the two sets of front rows going into Saturday’s big clash at Newlands.

The Stormers’ scrum has probably been the most consistent and stable aspect of their game so far this season. They have generally dominated every pack they have come up against, and they have recorded the most tight-heads in the competition.

They have good depth in the front row, with tighthead Vincent Koch playing a starring role in most of the matches, while Springbok Frans Malherbe has come along nicely after returning from injury.

Koch has come off the bench in the last two matches because the Stormers want a big impact from their bench in the second half. Koch not only provides a lot of power in the scrum, but he also throws himself around the park. He made a few good runs against the Bulls and also showed his offloading skills.

But maybe it’s time for the “Mr Incredible” lookalike to don the No 3 jersey again. The first 20 minutes is going to be very important against the Bulls. And while Malherbe is still getting back to his best, Koch has probably been the form tighthead in the country.

Steven Kitshoff, on the other side of the scrum, has probably been the best loosehead in the country, with his powerful scrumming and his work-rate around the park.

He looks a lot leaner this season, and as a result he is a lot meaner. He has been well backed up by Oli Kebble and Alistair Vermaak off the bench.

Kitshoff is due a rest after starting all the matches in the competition so far. But he probably won’t sit out the match against the Bulls because the stakes are so high as far as the SA Conference is concerned.

Kitshoff reminds one of a young Os du Randt, and after a few below-par campaigns he looks set to build on the promise he showed in his debut season as a 19-year-old and don the green-and-gold.

However, his biggest test of the season will be on Saturday when he takes on the powerful Marcel van der Merwe.

Kitshoff had his own way with Werner Kruger in the first match against the Bulls, but Van der Merwe is a different proposition. It’s no surprise that the Bulls’ scrum has climbed off its sickbed after the Springbok prop returned to anchor it.

His return has also coincided with the reappearance of Flip van der Merwe in the second row. Flip van Merwe is one of the best scrumming locks in the world and his combination with Marcel van der Merwe could give Kitshoff a tough time. And that is maybe the side that the Bulls will target to try and dominate.

Trevor Nyakane played loosehead in the first match and was absolutely obliterated by Koch. But he has been a regular at tighthead over the last few weeks, and has made a big impact off the bench both in the scrums and will ball in hand.

The unpredictable Dean Greyling, though, might be the Stormers’ target; not only in scrums but also as far as some niggle off the ball is concerned. Greyling tends to lose himself in the heat of battle and is prone to the odd brain explosion. But Koch and Malherbe need to get after him in the scrum as he could be the weak link.

Stormers hooker Scarra Ntubeni’s hooking has been absolutely superb, and this week he wants to add the scalp of Bulls start Adriaan Strauss, who hasn’t quite got going so far this season.

At his best, Strauss is one the best in the world. He is destructive with ball in hand and he makes intelligent decisions on the field. He will also feel a lot comfortable with Marcel van der Merwe next to him at tighthead in the scrums.

Ntubeni, who was rested for the match against the Force, brings the energy to the Stormers pack, while he is a key figure on the opposition ball at scrum time, as he puts his opposite number under pressure.

The Bulls scrum will certainly not lie down as they did on Valentines Day. So the Stormers better not be expecting any flowers on Saturday. - Cape Times

Original source: Big test for red-hot Kitshoff