Bok flank stars have earned ‘feet-up’

Pieter-Steph du Toit (Gallo Images)
Pieter-Steph du Toit (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - They have been probably the two most consistently inspiring Springboks in the strong second half of the national team’s 2018 Rugby Championship roster.

ALSO READ: Rob Houwing analyses Springbok depth

The exploits of respective flankers Siya Kolisi, the captain, and Pieter-Steph du Toit went an enormous way to ensuring victories over both New Zealand (away) and Australia (home) and then the lengthy mastery of the world champions at Loftus before heart-breaking scoreboard developments in the closing minutes on Saturday.

Certainly the loose-forward duo were hugely influential in ensuring South Africa’s first rise to the tournament runners-up spot - and deservedly so - in four years.

Never mind just the final furlong of the Championship this year: the Newlands-based pair have been among the most heavily-employed Boks throughout Rassie Erasmus’s now-budding first year in the head coach’s cap.

That they play in such physically demanding positions, also requiring big levels of athleticism, only reinforces the need for them to now earn a welcome emotional and bodily break from rugby before the closing international challenge of 2018 - the four-match European tour.

Four weeks will have elapsed since the Pretoria Test match classic, by the time the Boks take to Twickenham on November 3 for game one against England.

While the tottering domestic Currie Cup will receive a much-needed boost in its closing weeks with the infusion of a few generally more peripheral Bok squad members, or some actually requiring extra game time for sharpening purposes after injury layoffs, Kolisi and Du Toit are particularly deserving of some complete “down time” between Test obligations.

If anything, a spot of gym work/conditioning should be the very limit of their professional responsibilities until the Boks set off for chillier northern climes (the tour also includes Tests against France, Scotland and Wales).

Such is their form on the side of the scrum that both will, again, be pivotal members of a Bok team likely to be emboldened into thinking a clean sweep is possible, or at very least a three-out-of-four record, on the trek.

So a few weeks of “shorts and slops” is essential for their suitable recharge.

Kolisi must be very close to mental exhaustion, considering that this has been his maiden season as national skipper, with all the demands and inevitable ups and downs that accompany it.

But he is also risking rugby burnout: he had already carried a burdensome load as Stormers captain during a rocky Super Rugby season for the crisis-torn franchise, and it is to his enormous credit that he lifted his personal game massively in most recent weeks - at a time when this writer may not have been alone in fearing the opposite trend.

Remember that in the Super Rugby campaign, he had been entirely without his close aide, friend and senior Springbok colleague Eben Etzebeth for additional guidance of the troops from the fulcrum.

The 27-year-old Kolisi, now virtually assured of the World Cup leadership next year, has started for and led the Springboks in all of their last nine Tests, and he has almost always stayed on the park for the vast majority of matches.

Du Toit, for his part, has been perhaps the most enlightening development of the Bok season, in terms of the hugely impressive manner he has transformed himself - in defiance of certain prophets of doom - into a now seriously high-class blindside flank from more regular duty at lock.

He is unrecognisable, for example, from the then unavoidably naïve No 7 who started in that berth for the first time against England at “Twickers” two years ago, and got a noticeable run-around at least twice from gleeful home scrumhalf Ben Youngs in the Boks’ 37-21 grilling.

The strapping, blond competitor has been involved in all 10 Springbok matches this year, when you consider that he began the controversial Wales Test opener in Washington DC in early June (at No 5) when other top Boks were instead left at home to prepare for the home English series.

He has now begun four Tests in a row at seven - a tribute in itself to the comfort of his transition - which equals the tally of Tests he played consecutively there toward the end of 2017.

That is one little statistic almost guaranteed to be firmly broken on the looming Euro tour, especially if he is properly fresh and prepared anew ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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