Frans Malherbe v Steven Kitshoff: Who will be the scrum king of Cape Town?

Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe started as youngsters at the Stormers, and will be in opposing camps for the first time on Saturday. Picture: BRENTON GEACH Independent Newspapers

Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe started as youngsters at the Stormers, and will be in opposing camps for the first time on Saturday. Picture: BRENTON GEACH Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 28, 2024


Steven Kitshoff was soaking up the Cape Town sun yesterday, which is not much of a surprise if you’re living in Belfast.

Having played for the Stormers and Western Province as a teenager straight out of school until last season, it will be a bit strange to see Kitshoff in opposition colours for Ulster in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash at the Cape Town Stadium.

The Springbok loosehead prop posted a picture on Instagram yesterday while playing a round of golf with a couple of Ulster teammates, sporting a broad smile with clear blue skies above him.

But the Stormers will be hoping that his smile will disappear when he fronts up against someone who has been his right-hand man for many years at franchise and Test level, Frans Malherbe.

The Bok tighthead is not much of a talker off the pitch, but he turns into a machine in the scrums. A year older than Kitshoff at 33, Malherbe has had such a long injury layoff after last year’s Rugby World Cup heroics that he virtually started a new season in last week’s 43-21 victory over Edinburgh.

So, he needs time in the saddle ahead of a blockbuster international season that includes the two-Test series against Six Nations champions Ireland, as well as two home Rugby Championship clashes against the All Blacks.

If Malherbe had any thoughts of taking it easy against Edinburgh last week, he will know that needs to be thrown out of the window when he squares up to Kitshoff in the first scrum on Saturday.

They know each other better than most looseheads facing tightheads, and Stormers skills coach Labeeb Levy mentioned earlier this week that they had been scrumming against each other “twice a week for the last 14 years” during practice.

But while we know Stormers and Bok scrumming sessions can get heated and are intense, those were not matches.

Scotland’s Sam Grove-White will be the referee at the Cape Town Stadium, and any infringements by Malherbe and Kitshoff will result in actual penalties and free kicks.

There is also a lot at stake in the play-off race. The Stormers jumped to fifth on the URC log with their bonus-point win last weekend, and are pushing for a top-four spot in order to secure a home quarter-final at least.

Ulster are in a bit of turmoil on and off the pitch at the moment. They lost 22-12 to the struggling Sharks in Durban last week, and long-serving head coach Dan McFarland stepped down in mid-February, which has seen Ireland Under-20 coach Richie Murphy take over on an interim basis until the end of the season.

They are currently seventh in the standings with 34 points, but with just six points separating fourth-placed Munster on 39 and Benetton in 10th on 33, a win over the Stormers will bolster Ulster’s play-off hopes.

There are sure to be pleasantries exchanged between Kitshoff and the Stormers players afterwards.

“I’ve been thinking about it the past few weeks and it’s funny, I’ve never played against Kitsie,” No 8 Evan Roos said on the Stormers website.

“I don’t know how I’m going to handle that. He was basically my ‘father’ when I first joined the Stormers and looked after me very well.

“It’s going to be weird playing against him, and I’ll try not to be in his channel for the entire game – let’s see if that works.

“But I’m just excited to see him again, and I’m sure we’ll have a good beer in the changing room after the game and catch up.”

But before that, though, who will be crowned the scrum king of Cape Town between Malherbe and Kitshoff?