Retain The Beast. Don’t change a thing. That's the opinion of former Springbok loosehead prop Robbie Kempson regarding the growing challenge of in-form Steven Kitshoff towards incumbent Tendai Mtawarira.
Kempson, a veteran of 37 Tests in the No1 jersey for the Boks, was candid in his answer to a question of whether Bok coach Allister Coetzee should persist with Mtawarira or call up Kitshoff, who has been sensational in his impact off the bench in recent Tests.
“If you had asked me three months ago, I would have said that The Beast should be put out to pasture, but he has obviously had a shake-up and I think he is playing his best rugby since that unforgettable series he had against the British and Irish Lions in 2009 (when he gave England prop Phil Vickery a hiding in the set scrums),” said Kempson, who is also a television pundit for a national broadcaster.
“I thought The Beast was finished but he is very much rejuvenated and he is anchoring the Springbok scrum,” Kempson said of the 32-year-old, 93-Test veteran.
“I am taking nothing away from how well Steven (Kitshoff) is playing off the bench, and that is great because the form of players like him off the bench are giving the Boks a big impact in the last quarter, and it nearly pulled off the win in Perth (drawn 23-23).
"But for now I would not change the recipe, especially ahead of such a big Test against the All Blacks. It is currently working at loosehead prop. I would not have thought as much a few months ago but The Beast is pulling finger and Kitshoff is literally throwing his weight around when he comes on.”
Kempson reiterates that he thought Mtawarira’s career had run its course, but he says the former Zimbabwean should be given a pat on the back for his renewed hunger.
“He has proved me wrong. He has really upped his game and I think it would be crazy to change the current front row scenario,” Kempson said.
“The Beast has shown that he is still hungry for the jersey and then you have a Kitshoff coming on and making a huge impact in all facets of the game. The recipe is working right now. Don’t change it,” Kempson said.
The 43-year-old Kempson said he had spoken at length with Mtawarira about his career when Kempson was doing media coverage of the Boks’ match against Argentina in Salta.
“He admitted that he was very despondent last year but that the whole environment had changed this year, and he wants to be part of the Boks going forward,” Kempson said.
“He said that the team spirit this year between last year was like a ‘grand canyon’ and that it has reinvigorated him and he wants to push on and contribute what he can to the Boks,” Kempson said.
“The Beast said he has not been as positive about the Boks since the tenure of Peter de Villiers when in 2009, the Boks beat the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks three matches in a row."
Meanwhile, the Bok management have confirmed flanker Jaco Kriel is on his way home after a scan confirmed he had suffered a serious shoulder injury.
No replacement will be called up as the coaching staff feel they have sufficient loose forward cover.
Sharks flank Jean-Luc du Preez is the favourite to replace Kriel in the starting line-up.