World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit says that motivation won’t be a problem for the Springboks when they host the British & Irish Lions in 2021. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Does the current Bok side have anything left to prove?
Rassie Erasmus’ charges won the World Cup and the Rugby Championship last year, and finished the season at the top of the World Rugby Rankings. The Boks were subsequently named World Rugby Team of the Year while Du Toit won Player of the Year.
And yet, by their own admission, these players have more to give in the next World Cup cycle.
Senior players such as Duane Vermeulen have already told SARugbymag.co.za what it would mean to face the Lions in 2021. Frans Steyn, who featured in the series win against Paul O’Connell’s side in 2009, wants another crack at the composite side.
Du Toit, like most in the wider group of players, realises that the chance probably won’t come around again. The star flank is recovering from a freak injury sustained while on duty for the Stormers. The injury lay-off, along with suspension of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament due to the Covid-19 crisis, has given him time to reassess his goals.
‘That Lions series is going to be even bigger than the World Cup,’ Du Toit told SA Rugby magazine in a wide-ranging interview.
‘I have spoken to a lot of past players who have shared their experiences of 1997 and 2009. They’ve told me that the pressure to perform and win in a Lions series is greater than it is at World Cup because a Lions series is only staged in South Africa once every 12 years. If you blow that chance, you won’t get another shot in your career.’
The Bok side that won the 1995 World Cup went on to lose the 1997 series to the Lions. John Smit’s charges, however, followed up a World Cup triumph in 2007 with a resounding 2-1 series victory over the Lions in 2009.
Du Toit was 16 the last time the Lions toured South Africa.
‘It’s a long time ago, but a couple of moments stand out. I can’t remember when it happened, but Heinrich Brussow got hold of one of the Lions in the tackle and flung the player away like he was a bag of potatoes. That kind of summed up the physical approach of the Boks in that series.
‘Then there that was try by Jaque Fourie in the second Test at Loftus, where he finished in the corner to bring the Boks back into the game. That was a terrific comeback.’
Shortly after the Boks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in Yokohama last November, the conversation shifted to the next big series in 2021. Du Toit, one of the leaders within the set-up, feels that highlights the importance of a Lions series as well as the mindset of the current Bok squad.
They’ve achieved a great deal, yet they remain hungry for more success.
‘It was incredible to see the guys talking about that series so soon after the World Cup final,’ Du Toit said. ‘That kind of showed where we are as a team and what we believe we can achieve beyond the success in Japan.
‘Maybe we’re still quite a young side, but everyone in the group is on the same emotional level. Everyone understands what needs to be done. Despite the World Cup win, everyone wants to be part of that series against the Lions and I’m sure that motivation in the buildup won’t be a problem.’
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