Pieter-Steph du Toit is thrilled to have claimed the SA Rugby Player of the Year award while playing regularly at blindside flank. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Du Toit was one of the Springboks’ standout performers in a largely forgettable 2016 season. While the team recorded some shocking results that year, Du Toit impressed in an individual capacity, and was subsequently acknowledged with the SA Rugby Player of the Year award.
Du Toit played in all 12 Tests that season. He featured at lock 11 times and at flank once. Four of his appearances in 2016 were from the bench.
Two years later, Du Toit was backed regularly at No 7 by a new coach in Rassie Erasmus. The Boks finished the 2018 season with a 50% record, but most were in agreement that Du Toit had announced himself as a world-class flanker and the favourite to wear the No 7 jersey at the 2019 World Cup.
The 26-year-old was all smiles at a media gathering held at Newlands on Thursday. After posing with the SA Rugby of the Player award, Du Toit spoke about what it meant to win the prize twice in three years, and particularly what it meant to win it while playing in his favourite position.
‘I came off the bench a lot in 2016. It’s a great feeling to win the award, but I feel like it was even better this time around,’ Du Toit said.
‘I had a lot more game time in that No 7 position in 2018. I started a lot and I started for the most part in my favourite position.
‘Beating the All Blacks in New Zealand last year was special for myself as well as the team. Personally, it was a highlight to become more comfortable in that No 7 position.’
Du Toit will play for the Stormers in a warm-up match against Boland in Wellington on Friday. While he remains focused on the upcoming Super Rugby tournament, he understands that preparation for the World Cup tournament in Japan is already well under way.
‘It’s going to be a big year for South African rugby as a whole. You can’t stay at the same level. You’ve got to keep improving. I’ve set my own personal goals for 2019.
‘I’ve had a good preseason and my body is feeling good [despite him playing 1,091 out of a possible 1,200 minutes of international rugby last season, as well as 1,023 out of a possible 1,280 minutes of the Stormers’ campaign].
‘An agreement has been reached regarding my game management at the Stormers over the coming months.
‘There’s a lot I can improve on. I want to become a stronger ball-carrier and make more linebreaks. I can also do more to secure the ball at the rucks and ensure that the opposition battles to make the steal.’
The Boks and Ireland beat the All Blacks last year to challenge a few perceptions about the world’s No 1-ranked side. Last weekend, however, England beat Ireland – a side hailed by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen as the form Test team of 2018.
Du Toit agrees that the World Cup in Japan could be one of the most competitive global tournaments in history.
‘It’s really open this year. No one has been dominant.
‘It’s all about building some form in the Super Rugby tournament and then carrying it through to the Rugby Championship. You want to go to the World Cup with form and confidence.’
Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP