The United Rugby Championship (URC) rolls into the quarter-finals this week, offering a sumptuous north-south battle between the Stormers and Bulls, only made more dramatic by Steven Kitshoff’s impending departure.
The Springbok prop will join Ulster after this season, and because the Stormers lost the second spot, ironically to his future team, it will probably be his last home game in Cape Town regardless of the result.
Western Cape man
Kitshoff is holistically a product of the Western Cape having been born in Somerset West to schooling at the proud rugby school of Paul Roos through to the Western Province youth levels to the senior side, and finally, the Stormers.
The prop who bleeds blue and white has been a symbol of hard work throughout his career, from the moment he was brought into the senior structures as a teenager to leading the Stormers out for the first time.
All-time appearance record
Of his 12-year professional career, the loosehead has spent 10 at the Stormers, split into two stints by some time with Bordeaux in France. In many ways, the sabbatical up north matured Kitshoff, and he returned a more complete player and person.
By the time his second stint had started in Cape Town, Kitshoff had already amassed an impressive 60 caps for the then Super Rugby side. He has since kicked on and added 70 more to his name, and in turn, aptly becoming the Stormers’ most capped player in history with a total of 130 appearances.
Was present when needed most
Perhaps one of the greatest depictions of the great Kitshoff’s character is the loyalty of the star man to the club at the most difficult of times.
The Stormers were rocked with huge financial troubles, and by 2019 the situation had worsened to the point where an exodus of star-quality players was triggered.
Over the next couple of seasons, the club would see the departures of Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Not only was it established players but also young talents like Jaco Coetzee, Cobus Wiese and Juarno Augustus, as the survival of the union was completely in doubt.
The only solution was to sell the beloved Newlands and move to DHL Stadium, and even then, the financial security of the Stormers was not convincing.
Nevertheless, Kitshoff decided to remain put at the club staying true to his Western Cape blood but not without worry. Just before the Stormers’ first URC game against Benetton, there were doubts over their financial viability, with the Cheetahs waiting in the wings to replace the Cape side if needed. Fortunately for the Cape Town outfit, it was not.
By then, Kitshoff was well established as the leader of the side and in conjunction with John Dobson and his management group they built a powerful environment and team culture. It took a while for the stars to align before the Stormers went on a memorable run that saw them host the grand final of the inaugural URC.
Hosting the final was not enough, as the Stormers christened their new home with their first international title. Nothing was more appropriate than seeing the robust figure of Kitshoff lugging the brand-new URC trophy over to his team and hoisting it into the Cape Town sky.
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One of the greatest
The Stormers have seen some outstanding players wear their colours from Bryan Habana to Jean de Villiers to Percy Montgomery to Schalk Burger to Kolisi to Etzebeth, the list goes on. In fact, the list is so impressive that the Cape Town side was infamous for producing nothing from their superstar squad, particularly in 2011 and 2012.
Kitshoff’s Stormers of 2021/22 shattered that mould by taking what looked like an average side on paper to create history for the union. This was not built by big names and stardust, this was built together brick by brick led by their inspirational leader.
Those who came before him were legends in every sense of the word but through his loyalty, fierce commitment and exemplary leadership, Steven Kitshoff could well be regarded as the greatest Stormer there has ever been.