Springboks: Who Rassie Erasmus could turn to with Steven Kitshoff sidelined

Jared Wright
Springboks loosehead props Ox Nche, Thomas du Toit and Steven Kitshoff.

Springboks loosehead props Ox Nche, Thomas du Toit and Steven Kitshoff.

The Springboks could be without prop Steven Kitshoff for a period following a knee injury sustained while on Challenge Cup duty with Ulster.

On Tuesday, Ulster confirmed that the loosehead prop’s season is over after he suffered a knee injury against Clermont in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

It marks the end of a rather underwhelming stint at Ulster for Kitshoff, but it also raises significant concerns for the Springboks as they prepare for the 2024 international season.

Kitshoff has been mentioned as a possible captaincy candidate, as Siya Kolisi could relinquish the role following his move to Racing 92, but Rassie Erasmus could start his second tenure as Bok head coach without the services of the veteran prop.

Ulster did not specify the exact length of the 82-Test cap front-row’s absence as he required further scans, which would be done in South Africa. But if the man affectionately known as ‘Spicy Plum’ is unavailable for the Springboks, here are some options of who Erasmus could turn to.

Front runners

Ox Nche and Kitshoff shared the starting duties for the Springboks in 2023, and the former is set to take on a more prominent role in the team with the veteran forward sidelined.

It has also been reported that Nche could shift to the tighthead side of the scrum, particularly for the Test against Wales, meaning that Erasmus will be testing the depth on the loosehead side.

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Erasmus also noted that the Boks would need to inject youth into the front-row, and he certainly has players vying for the role.

Top of that list is Thomas du Toit, who was unlucky to miss out on a place in the Rugby World Cup squad last year. The 28-year-old has only got better since his move to Bath and looks primed to cement his place in the Springboks squad. His versatility is well-documented, and he could comfortably switch between loosehead and tighthead and could get a run of games in the former with Kitshoff sidelined.

Meanwhile, Gerhard Steenekamp is the most newly capped front-rower for the Springboks after making his debut off the bench against Argentina before the Rugby World Cup. The Bulls loosehead has gone from strength to strength since making his debut for South Africa and is enjoying probably the best season of his career. A mobile forward and a strong scrummager, Steenekamp ticks all the boxes for the Boks and could become a regular fixture in the squad.

In the mix

Just under the trio mentioned above is another double Rugby World Cup winner, Trevor Nyakane. Like Du Toit, Nyakane can easily switch between loosehead and tighthead, but as already mentioned, Erasmus is looking to inject youth into the Springboks squad, and the 34-year-old is in the ageing out bracket. Make no mistake, Nyakane would easily slot in and get the job done for the Boks at loosehead or tighthead, but Erasmus knows that he is not a long-term option.

However, Sharks prop Ntuthuko Mchunu certainly is a long-term prospect at the age of 25. He made his Test debut in 2022 but has yet to add to his single cap. But even despite the Sharks’ poor form this season in the URC, he has impressed both in the loose and, most importantly, the set-piece. More recently, he added real energy and power to the Sharks by replacing Nche in the latter stages of matches, and he could do the same for the Boks.

Stormers loosehead Sti Sithole could also press for selection if he makes a timely return for the Capetonians in the latter stages of the season. He is on the wrong side of 30 compared to the likes of Mchunu and Steenekamp, but the Springboks haven’t been shy about selecting more experienced players.

Outside bets

Staying with a short-term bet, Coenie Oosthuizen is another versatile option. At 35 years old, he could plug a gap for the Boks, and he was involved with the squad during the British and Irish Lions series in 2021. His time in Green and Gold has more or less passed but again it he could be a short-term filler.

On the other end of the scale, Bulls front-rower Jan-Hendrik Wessels is another outside bet at loosehead prop. The 22-year-old’s future looks to be at hooker and he could get a maiden cap in that role in 2024. He is bound to be a Springbok at some point, and while his future is in the middle of the front-row, he has also played for the Bulls in the loosehead prop role. This one could all come down to where Erasmus feels he will fit in best.

A selection that could rock the boat in the north would be that of 25-year-old Glasgow Warrior Nathan McBeth. The Glasgow forward qualifies for both Scotland and South Africa and represented both at U20 level. The former Lions prop could make his debut for Scotland during the July internationals, but given his form this season, could Erasmus tempt him to pick the Green and Gold jersey over the Navy one?

The last outside bet could see tighthead prop Vincent Koch switch sides despite sparingly doing so at club level. He has been mentioned as a loosehead prop option for the Boks over the years, but with a vast amount of experience and proven pedigree, he may be asked to do the job.

The 34-year-old is another who might not make the next Rugby World Cup squad, but he will need to be forced out of the team, and right now, his form is not waning.

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Surely not

We have run through several outside bets and elder statesmen but perhaps the most outrageously and frankly well-deserved call-up would be for Brok Harris.

It would be a romantic selection and just reward for a true servant of South African rugby. Even a one-off cap would make him the oldest Springbok debutant. A call-up would take many by surprise, but Erasmus always keeps the rugby public on their toes. Perhaps this would be a step too far and could raise questions about devaluing a Bok cap, but it could equally be seen as rewarding a legend of SA Rugby.

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