Will Andries Bekker be missed? That will depend on the strides Pieter-Steph du Toit makes, writes Khanyiso Tshwaku
South African rugby has shed a number of quality locks and more will be lost in future.
Such is the trench-warfare nature of the oval-balled game, especially in the southern hemisphere, that an idyllic paid rugby holiday in Japan seems like the easy way out.
But this trend does, at least, open up opportunities for young bucks to take charge.
After all, Eben Etzebeth seamlessly replaced Bakkies Botha.
Victor Matfield’s boots are that much bigger to fill, but 20-year-old Sharks utility forward Pieter-Steph du Toit can blossom into more than just a line-out specialist.
Matfield attended more rucks in his career than Andries Bekker ever will, even if he plays twice as many matches.
Du Toit can evolve into the kind of skilful, but physical, hybrid that is embodied by New Zealander Kieran Read.
It is worth remembering that he is a specialist number eight whose origins were at lock.
Juan Smith was the closest thing South Africa had to Read and it is a template Du Toit is following unwittingly.
While the Sharks pack has always been a force to be reckoned with, they have always seemed a man too light in the second row.
While this has often been remedied by Jean Deysel’s sporadic appearances at lock, his large build fails to hide the apparent frailty of his joints.
The injury curse has yet to befall Du Toit, who was until recently a Boland Craven Week player. His impact at number four, since his start against the Rebels, has been there for all to see.
The Sharks have yet to lose with him in the starting line-up and the KZN outfit’s pack now have the bite to more than match their bark.
The mongrel physical factor, close to what Etzebeth provides for the Stormers, has been just what the Sharks’ front row needed.
Du Toit’s ability to slot in at four or seven is also testament to his versatility and mobility.
Not many South African forwards can boast this as the retired Smith will not be gracing the field any more.
His role as the quiet cleaner and enforcer was unsung, yet he will be sorely missed.
It is something Du Toit has come very close to matching.
Whether or not he will play for the Springboks will depend on Willem Alberts’ availability and strong competition from Siya Kolisi, who is finding top form.
Heyneke Meyer is unlikely to move from his Bulls’ tried-and-trusted players, but he is prone to making left-of-centre selection choices, such as the untried Marcell Coetzee last season.
So Meyer does show faith in youngsters and Du Toit could be another one of them.