Pieter-Steph du Toit says he focused on improving his individual defensive technique this year, writes DYLAN JACK.
The 28-year-0ld has been nominated as Defender of the Year and Forward of the Year in the BrightRock Players Choice Awards.
The players themselves, under the banner of the South African rugby players organisation MyPlayers, created the awards in 2017 to celebrate the performances of their peers. Except for the Fans’ Choice category, players vote for the winners in all categories. The winners will be announced on Tuesday, 11 December, at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.
Du Toit faces competition from fellow Springboks, captain Siya Kolisi and lock Franco Mostert, as well as Blitzbok Werner Kok, for the Defender of the Year award. Kwagga Smith, Malcolm Marx and Kolisi have also been nominated for the Forward of the Year award.
The winners will be announced next Tuesday at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.
Du Toit, who alternated between lock and flank throughout the season, has become an important cog in both the Springboks and Stormers defensive systems.
This was illustrated by his efforts in the Boks’ famous 36-34 win over the All Blacks in Wellington, where he made a stunning total of 24 tackles.
Du Toit told SARugbymag.co.za that he had put in a lot of work behind the scenes with Bok defence coach Jacques Nienaber.
‘We had a lot of different [Springbok] defence coaches in previous years. With Jacques coaching the defence now, we focused a lot on individual skills. I focused a lot on my individual technique too. It was something I had to put a bit more focus on, completing the tackle and putting a bit more force into the tackle. That is something I thought I could improve and hopefully, I have.
‘You don’t feel the pain until after the game, unless you cannot go on. That is what motivates me,’ Du Toit added. ‘You are representing your country and I have dreamed about that since I was a small boy. With my grandfather [Piet du Toit] being a Springbok it is something I am so passionate about. When I am on that field, I will try and give everything I have got. It is difficult to do it in every game, your body feels it, but once you are on that field, you have to go flat out.’
The Boks ended with a 50% win record in Rassie Erasmus’ first year as coach, starting and finishing it with losses to Wales. However, there were positives in between, including a home Test series win against England and that victory over the All Blacks.
Du Toit said the experience gained from 2018 will serve the Boks well as they set their sights on the World Cup in Japan next year.
‘It was quite a rollercoaster ride this year,’ he admitted. ‘We started off with Wales in Washington and that was quite a difficult one, travelling there in midweek. The games that we lost this year were games that we really could have won. I think in some of those games we did not pitch up. At Test level, you have to pitch for every game otherwise you will have a rollercoaster year like we did.
‘The way we are starting to play is taking us in a good direction. We are quite positive and there is a great understanding from the coaches towards the players. The leadership in the team is going quite well. We are on the right track with everyone getting involved and giving their input.
‘Our backline is quite young but we have quite a lot of experience in our forwards. We are learning a lot, and if we can start understanding each other and the way we want to play, I think we will have a better year in 2019.’
Du Toit had a heavy workload this year and is looking forward to putting his feet up in December and re-energising.
‘It is going to be nice to relax a bit. I have to go in for medicals with the Stormers and then it is holiday time. I cannot wait for that, to do a bit of relaxing.
‘It has been a great year. I have really enjoyed my rugby for the Stormers and the Springboks. I learned a lot this year, about myself, my own game and the other guys around me. It is not possible for me to play well if the guys around me don’t help me. It is a team sport so credit to all the guys and the coaches who helped me.’
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images