Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Siya Kolisi and Steven Kitshoff have officially committed to the Stormers until 2015.
All four of these youngsters signed contract extensions on Tuesday in what is a massive boost to the forward depth of the Stormers and Western Province.
The news comes just three days after Kitshoff (20) turned in a powerful scrum showing against Springbok tighthead Jannie du Plessis, while Etzebeth (20) and Kolisi (also 20) made just as big an impact in general play. While he was deployed from the bench, Malherbe (20) also made his mark.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said he was thrilled with the performances of these players, three of whom made their Super Rugby debuts in round one against the Hurricanes.
He added that it was also a strong indicator that the rugby structures in the Cape are working, as apart from Kolisi, Etzebeth, Malherbe and Kitshoff are products of the WP systems and all attended school in the region.
‘It’s been great to see these guys come through, and absolutely fantastic that we can keep them in the province,’ Coetzee said. ‘There’s always a lot of talk of players leaving the Cape and accepting other offers, but this [Tuesday's signings] shows that some believe it would be a wiser move to remain down here.
‘These young players have proved that they’re good enough to compete at Super Rugby level and good enough to become Boks in the next year or two. It’s no secret that other unions are prepared to pay huge amounts for their services, but fortunately we’ve moved quickly enough to secure their signatures.’
Forwards coach Matt Proudfoot said the signing of these players was significant with regards to the future of Stormers and WP rugby. Massive strides have been made since Rassie Erasmus took control of the franchise in late 2007, and Proudfoot believes the latest development will ensure the team builds on its strong forward reputation.
‘I can’t think of a team that has won a major tournament without a dominant pack,’ he said. ‘It’s important that we continue to grow in this area, and I’m very happy that these players have committed [for the next three years].’
The Stormers have made a winning start to the competition and their pack has largely outmuscled that of the opposition. While they are not yet the finished product, Proudfoot said the forwards had progressed since the pre-season, where they were heavily criticised at the set piece.
‘We don’t want to peak in the pre-season, we want to peak at the right time. It was a good performance last week but there are still things we can improve on.
‘We will have to be more accurate when we come up against the Blues and Bulls [in the coming weeks]. After that, we will have two big challenges [on the overseas tour] against the Reds and Crusaders.’
If Kitshoff and Malherbe continue to flourish, the Stormers scrum should reap the benefits. It will also help the Stormers to know that they have other options at the lineout, as Andries Bekker is only three games (including the pre-season outing against the Kings) into his comeback from a serious injury, and will need to be managed carefully in the next few weeks.
Rynhardt Elstadt is expected back in action next week, and Quinn Roux is another youngster that’s impressed the Stormers coaches and could make his debut soon.
While Etzebeth has enjoyed a fine start to his Super Rugby career at No 4, he could also be used in the No 5 position. De Kock Steenkamp is another No 5 option.
Meanwhile, Kolisi will continue to start at No 6 for the Stormers in the absence of captain Schalk Burger. Burger won’t be back until the second tour match against the Crusaders, and so Kolisi will be expected to maintain the high standard set in the first two matches.
By Jon Cardinelli