Cape Town – The heart-and-soul performances of Pieter-Steph du Toit in recent weeks are making it increasingly imperative that he be a starter for the Springboks on their premier occasions during the June international window.
He should also be allowed to operate in his most familiar position - lock - which makes a partnership between Lood de Jager and himself look the most obvious, rational prospect for the Boks in the increasingly unlikely event that Eben Etzebeth is Test-fit in time for significant service during the England series.
For all the talk of lanky RG Snyman’s rise at Loftus, and rightly so, Du Toit was a colossal presence in just about every respect in Saturday’s 29-17 Stormers triumph over the Bulls: the best second-rower on the park amidst an impressive quartet of them that included both De Jager and Snyman for the enemy outfit.
They don’t always get it right for player of the match in Super Rugby, but he was a fitting choice, the big, unassuming fellow forced briefly into public limelight -clearly not the acknowledged Swartland “farm boy’s” most comfortable habitat - to accept his laurel.
That currently expansive blond mop of hair just seemed to crop up everywhere as the home front five’s mastery played a crucial part in the outcome of a widely-lauded contest that breathed new life into the concept of South African derbies.
Lineouts, scrumming, mauling, clean-outs, drives, hits … Du Toit left no personal box unticked before the appreciative, very welcome Newlands crowd of 30 000-plus.
But that shouldn’t have surprised anyone who has been monitoring his form over the last few rounds of matches: in short, he is back touching his optimal performance levels, which makes him a considerable engine-room package indeed.
The then-IRB Junior World Championship-winning star of 2012 for his country, now 25 and with plenty of top-flight service still ahead of him, has let his herculean, constantly industrious actions do the talking when it comes to Bok selection purposes.
That all this has come during a period when the Stormers have undergone some marked periods of angst in results terms and on the injury front, is simply a further feather in Du Toit’s cap: he’s been a priceless bastion of assuredness through it all.
What’s more, he has looked increasingly comfortable as a versatile forward, rather than a little betwixt and between as he did at one stage when asked to revisit the blindside flanker chore.
Du Toit was quite superb in that spot - a bastion of defiance as too many colleagues around him surprisingly wilted -- even as the Stormers were trounced 52-31 by the Lions in Johannesburg back in early April.
Keep in mind that he is the incumbent Bok No 7: in one policy step that much-maligned Allister Coetzee got right in the dying phase of his tenure as Bok coach, Du Toit was looking more and more at home there in four successive starts at the end of 2017.
He remains an appealing fit for the jersey as Rassie Erasmus prepares to take his 2018 Springboks into June battle, even if the Sharks’ genuinely rugged Jean-Luc du Preez (also finding best form) is a compelling alternative.
All Black Jeff Wilson, anchor of New Zealand rugby chat show The Breakdown, recently described Du Preez as “a bull” - and no, he wasn’t mixing up his SA franchises, either.
But if you asked loyal squad man Du Toit which department he would prefer to occupy for South Africa shortly, you’d firmly imagine he would say the second row.
Frankly, he is doing more than enough to earn that ticket.
Remember that the player has the physical and other qualities to be able to be either of a No 4 or 5 lock - a fact one astute former Bok coach, Heyneke Meyer, was not averse to pointing out several back.
In 2013, Meyer said he believed that Du Toit could become “one of the best fives ever” … although in virtually the same breath he acknowledged that he “plays like a four”, given his natural physical commitment and formidable tale of the tape: two metres, almost 120kg.
A combination, in the absence of proven powerhouse Etzebeth, of Du Toit and De Jager for the Boks still has a seriously classy feel about it, something Erasmus is likely to concur with; the latter is also well able to be either a “front” or “middle” man as a lineout lock.
No less a personality that Bakkies Botha, legend of the Bok second row, was effusive in his praise of Du Toit’s showing in the Stormers v Bulls derby; something not insignificant when you consider the ex-meanie’s yeoman Loftus loyalties.
Botha took to Twitter to say that Du Toit’s “work-rate this season is mind-blowing … they must look after him because he can play anywhere”.
With Etzebeth injured, he said, Du Toit was increasingly moving out of his franchise squad-mate’s shadow and “deserves more credit as a player”.
It was a ringing endorsement, don’t you think?
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