When Steven Kitshoff looks back at his early starting opportunities for the Springboks he will recall the emotion of two super-human efforts against the All Blacks.
One effort fell short, with his first start in the 2017 test in Cape Town ending with a defeat by the narrowest of margins. He hasn’t started that often subsequently, but he was back in the No 1 jersey for the Wellington game that rocked the rugby world and halted what was starting to look like a Bok slide.
In both games he played like he was charged by Duracell batteries and just never stopped moving, contributing as much in general play, both with the ball and off the ball, as he did in general play. Clearly playing the All Blacks brings out the best in him and regardless of whether he starts against the Wallabies in Port Elizabeth on Saturday he should be wearing a single digit on his back in the eagerly anticipated return clash with the Kiwis in Pretoria a week later.
Kitshoff’s passionate performance in his two starts against the All Blacks makes him the perfect person to ask the million dollar question that must be bugging Bok fans as their team heads into the final two games of the Rugby Championship - is it possible to pack that sort of effort and passion into two games in a row?
It is a fair question given that this fortnight is in some ways a dress rehearsal for the play-off stages of next year’s World Cup, which will already be underway at this point of 2019. Winning a quarterfinal requires effort, it also needs passion to win a semifinal, and of course a final is almost by definition an emotional game.
If the Boks can replicate the Wellington effort in both Port Elizabeth and at Loftus seven days later, then it will tell us they can do it in the same time-frame at the World Cup where, who knows, they may well be facing the same sequence of opponents, just on neutral territory.
“Every test match is a big occasion and you have to be up physically and emotionally,” said Kitshoff.
“What we are trying to get right is being there every week, being physical, being in their faces and making the big hits. As we saw in Wellington, when it comes off it feels brilliant. Our preparation this week is focussing on getting into the game, being in their faces, being up for it from the kick-off.”
Creating a presence early in the game is not something the Boks have got right often in 2018. They came from behind in both their test wins over England, and also let Argentina get ahead of them before winning the opening Rugby Championship test in Durban in August.
However, the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium game on Saturday will show us whether there is a before and after differentiation that will become apparent subsequent to the win over the All Blacks. The self-belief that would have been injected into the squad could just grow them an extra arm and a leg, figuratively speaking of course, while conversely fans will be wary of their team falling back on their old trick of being complacent after a big win.
“It is another test week and we always prepare our best to play against any team we face. But the win over the All Blacks did give us confidence, and we must take that confidence into the next couple of weeks. It does feel like there is bigger energy in the squad since Wellington, but we mustn’t waste that.
“I think if you look back to the Cape Town game last year (where the Boks did everything but win) it was a very emotional journey afterwards. We really played our hearts out and left nothing out there and yet we still lost. Then coming to Wellington no-one was really backing us. That was a special win, the guys were really chuffed, you could see it on their faces after the game.”
The challenge for the Boks on Saturday is to make that big effort and that achievement count by backing up. They will be looking to feed off the confidence that the Bok loosehead was referring to.
The team for the Wallaby game is to be named on Thursday, and at this point there is no real clarity about how many changes coach Rassie Erasmus might make, and whether Kitshoff will be starting or go back to his bench role for the Wallaby game. Although he says he enjoys starting, he claims it doesn’t make too much difference to him.
“I am just happy to be in the mix every week. There is healthy competition between myself and Beast (Tendai Mtawarira) and we push each other every week. That makes us better players and better scrummagers.”
Kitshoff clearly has a healthy respect for the 100 test cap veteran and he says he has learnt a lot from him.
“Beast has been there and done that. He knows the game back to front and the scrummaging game back to front. He is someone I look up to as inspiration and every week when we do our work and our preparation we I learn a lot from him. It is special to have someone like that in the squad...pls like my page for more new related to cricket thanks GOD BLESS YOU