From the mag: Family People

A new generation of Du Toits are cultivating a place in South African rugby, writes PETROS AUGOUSTI in the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine.

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The Kloovenburg Wine and Olive Estate in the small town of Riebeek- Kasteel sits about 80km north-east of Cape Town and is world renowned for its produce: table grapes, olives … and towering, blond-haired, blue-eyed ‘monsters’.

The farm is home to the Du Toits, arguably the most famous rugby family in the world. Yes, there probably are two families in New Zealand who will vociferously disagree, but at this moment the homestead of the world’s best player, Pieter-Steph du Toit, tips the scale in the South Africans’ favour.

Forget about the All Blacks’ contingent of Whitelock and Barrett brothers; this is the story of the Du Toit family.

The family and rugby stories start with Piet ‘Spiere’ du Toit, a successful farmer, a considerable rugby player and a stern but loving father — traits that have been passed down through the generations. The legendary Du Toit Snr played 14 Tests at prop for the Springboks, making his debut against France in 1958. He was lighter than most of his international opponents, weighing in at 95kg, but was known for his lean, muscular frame and superb technique in the dark arts of front-row rugby.

He was involved in two wins and a draw against the All Blacks, while his son Pieter played 1st XV rugby for Swartland High School and club rugby. Pieter is also the father to another crop of Du Toits who have rugby and farming blood coursing through their veins.

‘A farm has always been my home and the passion will hopefully be in my family for many years to come,’ Pieter says. ‘I knew from an early age all I wanted to do was farm. While my dad was a Springbok rugby player, I never saw any of his matches … I just remember him as a very strict guy. Supportive but strict.’

Pieter says his earliest and fondest memory of rugby was in the form of an old leather rugby ball, brought back from an overseas tour by his dad. ‘The ball was my security blanket, it was my lucky ball. It fell on the fire one night but my dad saved it and I will never forget that moment,’ he says, as his broad smile almost subsides and his eyes mist up.

Pieter’s parents moved to Kloovenburg in 1957 to start farming and the family has been inexorably connected to the area ever since, quickly becoming well-known in the community as the estate and their family grew.

Pieter’s four boys – Pieter-Steph (27), Johan (24), Anton (22) and Daniel (20) – all attended the local Swartland High School, turning out for the 1st XV every Saturday on cold, rainy Cape winter days.

‘There were many scouts coming to visit me throughout the boys’ schooling but I wanted to keep all my kids close, and safe, so we decided to send them to the local school in Malmesbury, which is about 20km from the farm,’ Pieter says. ‘I went to Swartland High, my grandmother was vice-principal of the primary school, my mother was head girl of the high school and, in truth, we never thought of sending the boys anywhere else.’

Pieter is one of the more amiable people you will meet and his tanned face breaks into a smile when he talks of his children. His four sons are all decent rugby players. Well, more than decent. Pieter-Steph, a World Cup winner and World Rugby and SA Player of the Year, needs no introduction.

Johan is just starting to hit his straps with the Stormers, packing down anywhere in the loose trio. He played fullback for  much of his school career, which explains his above average ball-handling skills for a forward. According to Pieter, though, Anton is the most talented of the lot. The 22-year-old fullback is showing off his skills for Maties in the Varsity Cup.

‘Even when he was a baby, he constantly used to kick an empty who-litre coke bottle around,’ Pieter says as he recalls the clear signs that Anton was also born with the rugby bug.

The youngest, Daniel, plays for Huis Marais, a hostel team at the University of Stellenbosch, and is similar in style and build to Pieter-Steph.

More family secrets are let out of the bag as I find out who is the better hunter (Johan), most scholarly (Anton – studying to be a doctor), biggest charmer with the ladies (Anton), most business-orientated (Johan) and best tennis player (Anton).

Pieter-Steph is not even in the top three best all-round sportsmen in his own family, but he does have a World Cup medal and the title of ‘best rugby player in the world’. Given the competitive nature of his brothers, though, he could lose that honour some day.

There are serious topics to discuss, like Pieter-Steph almost losing his leg after a freak injury earlier in the season.

‘That was one of the scariest moments in my life,’ his father recalls. ‘It happened so quickly that we didn’t have much time to think about it … when that happens, rugby becomes just a sport.’

Then there was the time of another ‘medical miracle’ when Pieter had tendons removed from his hamstring to accelerate a surgical procedure Pieter-Steph underwent in order to recover from a knee injury in time for the 2015 World Cup.

‘I would do that every day of the week, I would give my kidney to one of my kids. In fact I would give more if I had to,’ he says, his effervescent voice trailing off, almost upset that I brought up the topic of injuries.

The stories go on forever. But it is the parting sentence from the father that sums up the Du Toit family best: ‘We are family people, farm people and rugby people, in that order.’

*This article first appeared in the May issue of SA Rugby magazine, which is now on sale.

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