Pieter-Steph du Toit’s ability to get through back-to-back 80-minute performances after more than a year out of the game aptly demonstrates why he has been referred to as an athlete who is a ‘freak of nature’, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
That was the number of days that passed between Du Toit’s career-threatening injury in early 2020 and his recent return to play in the opening round of the Rainbow Cup SA.
Despite this lengthy period on the sidelines, he has looked lean and mean.
In the opening game against the Sharks, the plan wasn’t for Du Toit to play 80 minutes, but red cards to other players meant the loose forward had to push through.
This past weekend, the big man repeated the feat against the Bulls, which included a pick-and-go late in the game that nearly led to a match-winning try.
Du Toit hasn’t received the kudos that are due after these two superhuman 80-minute performances.
At the start of the 2020 Super Rugby season, he suffered a serious leg injury. Complications and multiple surgeries followed. The threat of amputation was very real, and threatened to prematurely end his career.
It was a traumatic injury to say the least, and based on his past history with injuries, he would have been forgiven for wondering at times whether his body was built for this game.
Of course, who could ever forget how he had to travel to Germany for an experimental procedure on a previous knee injury prior to the 2015 World Cup.
In the end, Du Toit’s father ‘donated’ his own ligaments to ensure the procedure could be successfully completed and enable his son to travel to the World Cup.
More recently, it was also interesting to hear how Lood de Jager went for a braai at Du Toit’s place, where the two World Cup winners swapped ‘war’ stories and provided support over the mental and physical challenges that each have faced with injuries.
You’d imagine De Jager might have enjoyed it a bit more than most when Du Toit successfully returned to action, casually playing the entirety of the first two games to boot.
Du Toit has always been renowned for his remarkable mobility and work engine for such a big man, and his defensive dismantling of George Ford when he hunted down the England flyhalf for the duration of the World Cup final still lingers in the memory as a thing of brutal beauty.
Understandably, the 28-year-old is still far from where he was in 2019, but he has four more games in the Rainbow Cup SA to add mileage on his rugby odometer as he builds towards the British & Irish Lions series.
For the Boks to be successful against the touring team, they will need the 2019 World Player of the Year performing with the sort of confidence that only comes with regular game time.
For now, though, Du Toit deserves due plaudits for a couple of comeback performances that have been more remarkable than some may realise.