The evolution of Pieter-Steph du Toit into a versatile, world-class forward is a major success story for the Springboks in 2018, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It’s a travesty that Du Toit hasn’t been named as one of the World Rugby Player of the Year nominees. He may do a lot of the unattractive hard labour, but there is no doubt that he has been the beating heart of the Bok team this season.
In many ways, it’s been a year that has seen the 26-year-old reach the potential that saw him earmarked as a future Bok great from the outset of his career.
Such an assertion was most aptly reflected during a Super Rugby pre-season trial game that took place soon after Du Toit had made the move from the Western Cape to Durban to join the Sharks back in 2011.
At the time, then Sharks coach John Plumtree had the novel idea of inviting several former players to watch a pre-season trial and share their thoughts on the individuals who were performing in their positions.
One of the ‘guests’ was legendary former Bok lock Mark Andrews. As he watched from the press box at Kings Park, the fresh-faced import from the Cape got stuck into action with typical fervour.
Plumtree offered a wry smile and turned to Andrews. ‘Mark, look out for this youngster, he’s already better than you were,’ he chirped.
It was a comment made completely in jest, but it’s an anecdote that serves as an apt reminder of just how highly regarded Du Toit has always been. As the grandson of another Bok legend, Piet ‘Spiere’ du Toit, Bok rugby has run in his blood.
Yet Du Toit’s expected path to prominence did not progress without some speed bumps along the way. A couple of serious injuries threatened to derail his career, and in fact it was only a quite remarkable medical procedure that enabled the physical forward to make it to the 2015 World Cup.
Du Toit then agonised over the decision to leave the Sharks, who had effectively nursed him back to health for the better part of two years. Eventually, he opted to return to the Cape, although at times, his form initially wavered at the Stormers.
Yet, that all seems a distant memory now. In June, Du Toit received the honour of captaining the Boks against Wales in Washington, and after the long journey home, was named to play off the bench in the series-opener against England at Ellis Park.
His impact on that occasion was immense as the Boks completed a rousing comeback. He has been virtually irreplaceable since then.
For the remainder of the England series and for most of the Rugby Championship, Du Toit settled into a relatively new role at blindside flank. Forget the flashy stuff, it’s deep in the trenches that Du Toit has come of age.
He finished the Rugby Championship as the tournament’s leading tackler with a tally of 83, making 11 more hits than the next player in this category. Quite simply, his work rate has been off the charts.
Now, when it comes to picking a Bok starting team, he is one of the first names to be written down.
When Franco Mostert was unavailable for the recent end-of-year Test against England, Du Toit comfortable moved to No 5. When Eben Etzebeth was unavailable for last weekend’s clash against France, he then shifted to No 4. New position, almost any position, no problem.
This is the value of Du Toit. There are few players in World Rugby who boast such versatility, and yet there is little doubt that his preferred position on the flank is where he looks most effective.
This past Saturday, his influence was again quite aptly illustrated in one memorable moment that can be enjoyed below. The Boks had fallen 23-9 against France. From the kick-off, Du Toit made remarkable ground to make a dominant hit on opposite number Sebastien Vahaamahina as he looked to collect possession. The ball spilled free and S’bu Nkosi scored. Game on again, and the rest is history.
It was a defining moment of the match, and once again demonstrated that the Du Toit of 2018 is quite simply a class apart.
Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP