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CAPE TOWN – Over the last few weeks, our rugby writers have been debating their Springbok choices from No 15 to 1 for the upcoming series against the British & Irish Lions. Today the focus is on the No 1 prop …
Ashfak's choice: Steven Kitshoff
He had to wait until Tendai Mtawarira retired, but now Steven Kitshoff is firmly entrenched as the best loosehead prop in South Africa.
The 29-year-old's work-rate around the pitch makes him a stand-out frontranker. He is a powerful ball-carrier, puts in huge tackles around the fringes and is a destructive scrummager. Kitshoff's mobility means that he is an extra fetcher at the breakdowns, while he has also developed leadership skills since becoming Stormers captain. Having earned 47 Bok caps already, the Western Province star is in line to celebrate his 50th Test in fine style against the British & Irish Lions at Cape Town Stadium.
Sharks No 1 Ox Nche's improved scrummaging, combined with his usual busy contributions across the field, would make him the ideal back-up.
Mike's choice: Steven Kitshoff
It would be a tad unfair to say that Kitshoff is stepping out of the shadow of Mtawarira, given the stature of the Stormers captain in world rugby, but technically he is given that “Beast” was the starting loosehead prop for the Boks for so many years. Kitshoff indeed led the Bomb Squad with great impact at the 2019 World Cup, but he will now relish being the starting No 1. The 29-year-old is at the height of his powers and in my opinion he is right up there as one of SA's best players. There is no facet of forward play in which he does not excel, and he will be a key player for the Boks against the Lions.
The mobile front-rower knows his way around the field – constantly ranking admirably in the carries-made category – and when it comes to the scrum, he is a rock as well.
Apart from everything the 29-yearold offers individually, the fact that he has of course been the first-choice No 1 for the Stormers for more than a minute in the all-Bok front row consisting of him, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe is a big positive, especially considering how interrupted the rugby calendar has been.
Not that it's ever really been an issue, but they have had adequate time to settle. Besides, if not Kitshoff then who?
The real question is who should be his back-up? Nche is a pure loosehead, and the 25-year-old is the heir-apparent once the current crop of veterans decide to hang up their boots. But I like my props grizzled, and in that vein Trevor Nyakane, who can play on both sides, would be my initial, secondary pick for the first Test, while Coenie Oosthuizen has a similar utility, but would probably be my last resort.