From a Bok perspective, the opportunity for Pieter-Steph du Toit to return to competitive action in the early rounds of the Rainbow Cup is worth its weight in gold, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Next Friday, the Stormers and Sharks will kick off the Rainbow Cup with a clash at Cape Town stadium.
After Super Rugby Unlocked, the Currie Cup and the Preparation Series, rugby supporters may not be overly enamoured by the prospect of another set of domestic derbies. That’s understandable.
Yet, there is very good reason to welcome the return to action for South Africa’s leading players in order to continue preparations for the British & Irish Lions series.
And when the Springbok coaches settle in to cast a close eye on the full-strength Stormers and Sharks in action, there could very well be a significant stand alone reason to celebrate this Rainbow Cup competition: it opens the playing field for Du Toit to return.
Du Toit was the 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year. His defensive dismantling of England flyhalf George Ford in the World Cup final still lingers in the memory as a thing of brutal beauty.
Yet, in the glory days that followed that magical night in Yokohama, Du Toit could never have foreseen the challenges that would lie in wait.
At the start of the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season he suffered a serious leg injury. 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 it’s now been a good year since Du Toit last laced up his boots for a fully-fledged competitive game.
Exactly a month ago, Stormers coach John Dobson provided a hugely encouraging update on Du Toit when he described how he had been impressing on his return to training.
‘As an athlete, he is a freak of nature. He could be back and dominating the Rainbow Cup in a couple of weeks’ time. When he started training here, after 11-and-a-half months out, he was absolutely extraordinary.
Du Toit was set to make his comeback in the latter stages of the Preparation Series if not for an untimely nose injury.
However, he has now fully recovered and continues to train with the Stormers as part of his return to play programme.
It remains to be seen if his highly-anticipated return will be phased off the bench, but the sight of him running out in Stormers colours once again should be celebrated far and wide in South Africa.
In terms of the Springboks’ prospects against the British & Irish Lions, the importance of Du Toit’s availability cannot be underestimated.
The 28-year-old would walk into any World XV selection, and remains the Boks’ leading candidate to fulfil the all-important blindside flank role. And of course, if the threat of injuries to the Springboks’ lock stocks persists, he could also capably slot into the second row.
As Dobson recently suggested, Du Toit is a ‘freak of nature’ as an athlete. Should he be able to regain some fitness and form in the coming weeks, the Boks’ odds of emerging victorious against the Lions will exponentially improve.
So, there is very good reason for the Rainbow Cup taking place, and on a player specific basis, the prospect of Du Toit sending out a reminder of his class is as good as it gets.