Four former Springbok props on whether Thomas du Toit can make a successful conversion from loosehead to tighthead.
Ollie le Roux
‘You don’t get good young tightheads, you only get good old tightheads. That’s because they have been scrummed and hurt, and with that experience they become good tightheads. There is no quick fix at tighthead. It takes a while for a prop to become a master of his craft. Thomas definitely has the potential to be a really good tighthead. But people want to move him to there without giving him the proper technique or support, which has created a situation where he has been thrown to the wolves. At the U20 World Championship he annihilated everybody as a loosehead, then he goes to tighthead and gets scrummed. It doesn’t mean that he is weak, it means that there is a technical problem in the Sharks’ scrum. I firmly believe Thomas has been thrown in the deep end without the right support, and it is upsetting, as he has the potential to be a devastating tighthead with the right players around him.’
‘Thomas was developing into a strong loosehead, so I thought it quite strange that he would want to move to tighthead unless he has played the position before. There are very few players who are comfortable with moving positions. It’s quite a big adjustment. It’s a strange time of his career for him to move there. It could disadvantage him, and end with him being a bench player. We will have to see whether he is capable of making the transition. He needs a bit of time to prove himself. The only thing is that Super Rugby does not allow you too much time to adjust, and if you have a few bad games in a row, it can seriously affect your confidence.’
‘History shows that converting a loosehead to a tighthead is a very difficult thing to do and takes time. Thomas is a wonderful loosehead, but you can’t expect him to just perform at tighthead. I felt very sorry for him on Saturday when he was horribly exposed against the Lions. If you look at the best tightheads in the world, they are guys who’ve played in that position from their early years. They’ve been through the mill. Thomas hasn’t got that luxury. These days when you are in a provincial setup, there are no club rugby competitions in which a player can hone his skills and technique should he want to make that change from one side of the scrum to the other. Yes, Thomas has got a good mentor in Pieter de Villiers, but he is always going to struggle in that position because he is not playing regularly at tighthead week-in and week-out. If they persist with Thomas at tighthead, they will have to allow him to play club rugby and Currie Cup for the next two years to learn the trade, otherwise he will continue to be exposed at Super Rugby and Test levels. They are measuring him against a scrum machine and unfortunately that machine does not shove back.’
‘Thomas has been exposed at tighthead on every occasion the Sharks and SA Rugby have played him there. He was exposed when he played for SA U20, he was exposed at Munster and he was exposed again this past weekend against the Lions. It’s very different in a training session, when you’re scrumming against a machine or your teammates, compared to professional rugby where you are scrumming against guys who’ve played either tighthead or loosehead their entire lives and are specialists in those positions. It’s exceptionally difficult to make the transition from loosehead to tighthead. And unless you have an out-and-out scrum coach working with you on a daily basis, it’s near on impossible to make that shift successfully. To do it in this day and age when we have specialist props in each position and at a professional level like Super Rugby, is actually inappropriate and unfair to the individual that they are they attempting to convert. Thomas should be a loosehead. Beast Mtawarira is getting on in years and has been an exceptional servant for South African rugby – not to say he is finished, he still has a lot to offer the Springboks and the Sharks. But a guy like Thomas is a natural heir to that throne. He is an immensely strong individual and a good ball-carrier. He and Steven Kitshoff should be the frontrunners to take over from Beast when he decides to retire.’
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