Thomas du Toit has shown great promise in his first year out of school, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
This time last year Thomas du Toit had just finished his second season with Paarl Boys’ High’s 1st XV, played for Western Province at the U18 Craven Week and represented SA Schools. Now he can look back on a 2014 season that has seen him play for the Sharks at Vodacom Cup, Super Rugby and Currie Cup levels, and wear the green and gold at the Junior World Championship.
It’s been a remarkable rise for the 19-year-old, who played for the Paarl Boys’ U19C team in his Grade 11 year in 2012.
‘He was at tighthead then,’ recalls 1st XV coach Elmo Wolfaardt. ‘Because he weighed 125kg and was so big, smaller looseheads were able to get under him at scrum time. We then moved him to loosehead and he started to dominate.’
Du Toit was soon promoted to the U19B team and ended up playing a few games for the 1st XV that season. In 2013, he was appointed captain.
‘Thomas led by example, was popular with his teammates and always got on well with referees,’ says Wolfaardt, who also rated him highly as a player. ‘He was an immensely strong schoolboy and a powerful scrummager. He was also good with ball in hand and would often get tackled 5-10m over the advantage line.’
Du Toit played Craven Week for Western Province and while the union says it did all it could to keep him in the Cape, he insists Province showed no interest in him and that the Sharks were always his first choice anyway.
Most would have expected Du Toit to play for the Vodacom Cup team and then make an impact in the U21 tournament during his first year with the Sharks. He did play seven matches for the Sharks XV in the Vodacom Cup, including three starts, but was also part of the Sharks’ extended Super Rugby squad during pre-season and joined them on their overseas tour, without getting on to the field.
Beast Mtawarira then injured his neck during the Springboks’ series against Wales, which saw Du Toit make his Super Rugby debut off the bench against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. He would start ahead of Dale Chadwick for the Sharks’ next three games, including the semi-final against the Crusaders, and retain the No 1 jersey for the Currie Cup with Mtawarira on Bok duty.
Du Toit has also made a big impression at international age-group level. Last year, he came off the bench for SA Schools against England U18 and then started against France. This year, he started the three Junior Boks’ games that mattered at the Junior World Championship – the pool match and semi-final against New Zealand, and the final against England.
Junior Boks coach Dawie Theron, who earned 13 Test caps as a prop, first saw Du Toit play when he was at Paarl Boys’ High and kept a close eye on him at Craven Week.
‘My first thought was that this guy is so big for his age,’ Theron recalls. ‘But he wasn’t just carrying weight, he was naturally big. He really impressed me. He had a great presence on the field, was good in the scrums and carried the ball well. He also had good leadership ability.’
Du Toit was not involved in the Junior Boks’ final training camp because he was on tour with the Sharks, and only joined up with the squad in Auckland. Theron says the teenager slotted in seamlessly and had a very good Junior World Championship.
‘He coped well with the underfoot conditions in New Zealand, and I could tell he’d learned a lot from Beast and Jannie [du Plessis] during his time with the Sharks.’
Theron admits he was surprised to see Du Toit given his Super Rugby debut at such a young age for a prop, but says players are coming through the system quicker than they used to.
‘These days the youngsters are so well conditioned, especially the forwards, that they can be selected for senior rugby. Jake [White] must have seen what Thomas could do and believed he was ready for Super Rugby. I think the Sharks have managed him well.’
However, props only peak in their late 20s and Theron says Du Toit still has work to do.
‘Playing week in, week out at senior level will require a lot of energy and focus from him. But I believe he can do it and will go from strength to strength.’
FORMER BOK PROPS ON DU TOIT
‘He’s got the potential to become a world-class prop, and is probably four or five Super Rugby seasons away from achieving that. He’s got the weight, which I like, he scrums well and he’s athletic with ball in hand. He has a high work rate and his defence will get better as he gains experience. I would advise him to play loosehead and tighthead over the next three or four years, because I think he could become a devastating tighthead who destroys the opposition. He should work closely with and learn from someone like [former Bok tighthead] Adrian Garvey’ – OLLIE LE ROUX
‘Of all the young props to have come through recently, he is the one who has shown the potential to go all the way to the top. Jake [White] felt he was ready to play Super Rugby at the age of 19 and he proved he was. He does the basics well, is a solid scrummager and ball-carrier, and will improve as he gains experience. He also has a very good work rate. While he should learn to play on both sides of the scrum, loosehead and tighthead prop are two very different positions, so I can’t see him becoming a Test tighthead. Look at the Coenie [Oosthuizen] experiment [of moving him from loosehead to tighthead], which fell flat. Coenie will never be a tighthead.’ – ROBBIE KEMPSON
‘He’s still young but it was good for him to get some Super Rugby experience this year. Jake obviously saw something in him and realised he could not only survive but excel at that level. And if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. He has got bulk and power and he’s had Beast [Mtawarira], Jannie and Bismarck [du Plessis] to help him. He must manage himself carefully so that he doesn’t get injured, and hopefully he will progress to play for South Africa.’ – OS DU RANDT
– This article first appeared in the October 2014 issue of SA Rugby magazine