After an extended period on the sidelines and the prospect of now heading overseas, Pieter-Steph du Toit remains conspicuous by his absence. CRAIG LEWIS takes a closer look.
From starring in the 2019 World Cup final and being named World Rugby Player of the Year, Du Toit was at the peak of his powers the last time he was able to enjoy a consistent run of game time.
At that stage, Du Toit could never have foreseen the serious leg injury he would suffer at the start of the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season, which required multiple surgeries and threatened to prematurely end his career.
Then the pandemic arrived, throwing the rugby industry into turmoil, while Du Toit unwittingly found himself as the central figure in the headline stories that surrounded a unique ‘transfer window’ that SA Rugby enforced to allow players to cancel local contracts in favour of overseas deals if they so wished.
In May, ongoing speculation around Du Toit’s future finally ended when it was confirmed that he had agreed to a deal to remain with the Stormers and WP Rugby until the end of the British & Irish Lions tour this year.
Yet, Du Toit’s injury rehabilitation kept him out of action for the remainder of 2020 and, only at the start of February, was it reported that he was ready to return to training after managing to run at full pace with no complications.
There still hasn’t been any opportunity for WP to bank a return on investment after finding a way to keep Du Toit on their books last year, and now there are strengthening rumours that he is in line to take up a stint playing in Japan.
According to Sunday newspaper Rapport, Du Toit could possibly finalise a two-year deal with Toyota Verblitz as early as this week.
After Du Toit’s injury troubles, it could be seen as a good opportunity to play his ‘domestic’ rugby in the less physically taxing Japanese Top League, but it remains to be seen what the nature of the deal might be.
SARugbymag.co.za understands that WP Rugby may be willing to explore the option of a ‘sabbatical’, which could see Du Toit spend some time playing in Japan before returning to Cape Town.
It’s the sort of situation Springbok star Makazole Mapimpi faced last year when he received a highly lucrative offer from Japan, but a compromise of sorts was reached when the Bok star was allowed to head to Japan for a season, while still agreeing to a long-term contract extension at the Sharks.
However, there is no finality on whether this is something that would appeal to Du Toit and WP, with this website also understanding that there may be some question marks over how he fits into their plans going forward as it is.
One way or another, the 28-year-old’s decision-making and return-to-play timeline will be watched with keen interest, particularly as the British & Irish Lions tour looms ever larger on the horizon.
Du Toit would have been expected to be an automatic selection at blindside flank, but after playing barely any rugby since the 2019 World Cup final, it’s impossible to gauge how quickly he will return to the desired fitness and form levels witnessed at that tournament.
For now, though, the waiting game continues to see when and where he will play his rugby next.