Forwards coach Matt Proudfoot says that Pieter-Steph du Toit has the talent to star at both lock and loose forward and shouldn’t be forced to settle in one position. JON CARDINELLI in Padua reports.
Earlier this week, head coach Allister Coetzee suggested that Du Toit is likely to come straight back into the starting lineup at blindside flank. Du Toit has made a full recovery from the concussion sustained against Ireland two weeks ago and will replace Siya Kolisi, who is currently on paternity leave.
The Boks will field their third loose-trio combination in as many weeks. Du Toit looks set to partner Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen in the back row.
There’s been a lot of debate about what the Boks should be looking for in a loose trio. There’s also been plenty of talk about Du Toit – who has played most of his Super Rugby and Test matches at lock – and his role at blindside flank on this tour.
Proudfoot maintains that Du Toit can offer the Boks options in both the second and back row going forward.
‘When Johann van Graan left last Sunday [to take up a head coach position at Munster], he stood up and gave each of the players a comment that was personal to him and the player. He told Pieter-Steph that he has the ability to become one of the world’s best rugby players,’ said Proudfoot.
‘He’s not a player who has to be stuck in one position. He’s a tremendous athlete. The more we give him licence to play, and the more opportunities he has to get his hands on the ball, the better it is for him.’
The Boks are short on experience and quality in the loose trio. While Louw and Vermeulen are world-class players, there isn’t a lot of depth in the current squad when one considers that Kolisi is unavailable and that Jaco Kriel, Jean-Luc du Preez and Warren Whitely are all sidelined with serious injuries.
What the Boks do have is an abundance of quality locks. Eben Etzebeth, Du Toit, Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert would start for most Test sides.
Ruan Botha is currently on tour, while JD Schickerling is another lock for the future. Jacques du Plessis, Paul Willemse and Jean Kleyn, to name a few, have impressed in the European club competitions.
Proudfoot feels that one has to find space for Etzebeth, Du Toit, De Jager and Mostert in the match 23, even more so with the injury situation in the loose trio.
‘There’s been a lot of talk about players choosing a position. It’s about skill-set, though, and our role as coaches is to marry that skill set with the requirement of the team.
‘We’re fortunate to have a player like Pieter-Steph who can do that. He makes such good decisions. He’s one of our best players.
‘There’s no place for all four locks in the team. But we’ve had a lot of injuries in the loose forwards. Here’s a guy who says, “Listen, give me the ball and I’ll take responsibility”.
‘It’s a decision he must look to make eventually: Does he want to peg himself as a 4, a 5, or a 7? Technically, in everything that happens on the field, No 5 and 7 are very close together. They both jump in the lineout, they both tackle and clean. There’s not a big difference in what they do.’
Proudfoot expressed his confidence in a loose-trio combination that includes Louw, Du Toit and Vermeulen.
‘Flo plays to the ball, Pieter-Steph can carry and has a tremendous engine. Duane does a bit of both. I suppose the combination does offer a bit of balance.
‘We’re the only country that plays our blindside at No 7 and we play it that way for a reason. We watched a video on the team bus the other day of Gert Smal at 7, Theuns Stofberg at 7, Juan Smith at 7. The type of 7s South Africa pick are bruising, bruising men.
‘Pieter-Steph is like that. Duane is in the same category. Flo and Siya can also do the job. The players have the skill set. It’s just a pleasure to coach these guys.’
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