CAPE TOWN – If there is one thing the Stormers can be forgiven for bragging about, it’s their props.
The two most awe-inspiring names that come to mind when you hear “Stormers props” are Wilco Louw and Steven Kitshoff ... for obvious reasons.
Louw, the young tighthead sensation who has become a serious Springbok contender, has been destroying his opposition at the scrum, and he’s played a massive role for the Stormers - in recent weeks and last season. He has also looked good for the Boks off the bench.
So it’s no surprise that during Western Province’s trophy-winning Currie Cup season last year - when Louw kept Frans Malherbe, a guy often described as a Springbok incumbent a couple of seasons ago, out of of WP’s run-on side a number of times - coach John Dobson felt that Louw displayed maturity at the set-piece beyond his 23 years.
“Scrumming-wise Wilco is up there, there’s no questions about that. We’re used to tightheads maturing at 28 or 29, and in the case of Wilco you’re talking about a 23-year-old and in the case of Michael (Kumbirai) you’re talking about a 20-year-old. So these guys have got big futures as props,” Dobson said about the duo’s ability during a press conference last year.
Kumbirai, who is recovering from a back injury, is another young tighthead who shows a lot of promise. At only 21, the Pretoria-born front-rower has impressed with his scrummaging ability and big ball-carrying ways in the SuperSport Challenge and Currie Cup. So he’s certainly one to watch in future.
And then, of course, there’s Kitshoff - a player who can effortlessy be as hot in open play as he is when he packs down for the showing battle.
Ahead of the Springboks’ Test against the All Blacks at Newlands last year, Kitshoff joined then-Bok scrum coach Matt Proudfoot at the top table for a press conference. And when asked how he felt about being used as an impact player for the Boks (at that time he had 18 caps, all racked up off the bench), Proudfoot jumped in and asked “Is that true? Have you never started a Test?” before Kitshoff could even answer.
Perhaps Proudfoot’s question served as an indication of just how surprising it was that someone of Kitshoff’s ability waited that long to get the chance to fire from the very first minute.
And it’s great that the Stormers have all of that - the Louws, the Kumbirais and the Kitshoffs - up front. They’re a real lucky team.
But I think another front-row forward who should be getting a bit more recognition is JC Janse van Rensburg.
The 32-year-old former Lions captain has been a quiet front-row presence compared to Louw and Kitshoff. And he almost goes about his on-field business in a less eye-catching way.
But the one action that shouted “I’m also here!” amid the Louw and Kitshoff frenzy was Janse van Rensburg’s monster performance off the bench against the Jaguares in the Stormers’ Super Rugby-opener.
Although a defeat didn’t look like a possibility halfway through the game, it became an increasingly likely result, and in the third quarter the Stormers were under heavy pressure in their own 22. Until Janse van Rensburg helped a depleted Stormers pack scrum themselves out of trouble, that is.
The shoulder taps, quick hugs and cheers in Janse van Rensburg’s direction perhaps signalled more than just a quick celebration for a single job well done. Maybe it also served as a ‘thanks’ for all the work, behind-the-scenes and on the field, the pack senior does in an atmosphere that can almost be described as the shadow of Louw and Kitshoff.
Don’t get me wrong - those two guys deserve every bit of credit they get, they’ve shown that countless times. And I’m a big fan of both of them.
But maybe JC Janse van Rensburg’s experience, leadership and the occasional monster shove does in fact play a bigger role in the Stormers team than what we realise.