Boks: Du Toit will stay ‘Magnificent Seven’

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

Cape Town - What do you do when caught up in heavy traffic? Nipping off on an alternative route can pay dividends.

You might say that is increasingly what Pieter-Steph du Toit has done in a rugby context: right now he seems more glued in than ever before to his inspiring, converted role - from the second row - as blindside flank for South Africa.

At the weekend, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus revealed the fast-tracking back into the training squad mix, ahead of the November tour of Europe, of lanky Bulls lock Lood de Jager.

The spring-heeled customer, seasoned at all levels but gratifyingly not quite yet turned 26, has been absent for several months but he is clearly very close to a full-scale return to fitness and smart money suggests he will cut the nod for the four-match trek.

That situation gained further credibility when he appeared as a bib-wearing, side-line member of the Blue Bulls’ Currie Cup squad who did duty so gallantly in the Newlands semi-final; De Jager issued an Instagram photograph afterwards with the words: “Good to be involved in the game again ... even if it was as a water boy!”

Erasmus will know that De Jager, who excelled in European conditions for the Boks at the 2015 World Cup, fits the bill physically (2.06m, and over 120kg) for the tour and apart from his versatility appeal between the two lock berths he would offer one attribute several other pack colleagues may lack at this time of the year: freshness.

The hope would be that he can hit the ground running, a bit like co-lock Eben Etzebeth did when he made such a stirring return against Argentina in Durban despite months of prior inactivity himself.

A lock cupboard of Etzebeth, De Jager, RG Snyman and Franco Mostert is about as good as it gets for any team, and that only enhances the likelihood that Du Toit - perhaps tellingly now branded a “flank/lock” in the latest Bok media release rather than the other way round - will remain at his budding No 7 station in the coming weeks.

He was one of the individual stars of the recent Rugby Championship, across all four nations, and there is a compelling case for saying “why fix something that ain’t broke?” with regard to the way he has embraced the new job.

Du Toit also revealed in an extensive lifestyle/general interview with Rapport’s Hanlie Retief recently that he had shed some six kilograms (from 120 to 114) which only seemed another sure sign that he was working toward the slightly more mobility-geared demands of blindside flank from his days as a rugged second-rower.

If De Jager is in suitable nick to be considered for selection at the outset of the Bok tour - they open with a biggie against revenge-seeking England at Twickenham on November 3 - he may even pip incumbent Franco Mostert to the No 5 jersey there.

The former Lions stalwart is a grafter of serious note, but he is less imposing a physical specimen than De Jager and that quality could see the latter leapfrog him to starting duty on some heavier pitches over the next few weeks.

It is increasingly likely, meanwhile, that back at his home ground of Newlands - where WP are gearing up to host Saturday’s Currie Cup final against the Sharks - Du Toit will also continue his rebirth as a flanker rather than lock for the Stormers when Super Rugby 2019 kicks off in the new year.

A lock pairing of Etzebeth and 23-year-old JD Schickerling - the youngster from Calvinia has been dynamic throughout the domestic competition - holds appeal for the franchise in the SANZAAR competition, and they have other specialist lock options (at least for the time being) in Currie Cup skipper Chris van Zyl and emerging Salmaan Moerat.

That said, rumours swirled in the media a few weeks ago that Van Zyl, 32, might be released in the off-season by the cash-challenged union, although he has subsequently only reminded of his yeoman, calming and no-frills qualities both as a player and leader.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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