Boks should start ‘Tank Engine’ in CT

Thomas du Toit (Gallo Images)
Thomas du Toit (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - While he would be the third different Springbok tighthead in four Tests, Sharks juggernaut Thomas du Toit seems especially deserving of a maiden start in the now dead-rubber third encounter against England at Newlands on Saturday.

The 23-year-old “Tank Engine” has looked the part at international level in three successive appearances as a substitute during the June window: he got 35 minutes against Wales in Washington DC, another 32 in the first Test against the English, and a further 36 in the series-sealing second in Bloemfontein.

Each time, he looked suitably assured at the set-piece - considering how he is still learning the ropes on his less familiar side of the scrum - and put himself about energetically in general play.

Du Toit would presumably not like to run the risk of becoming too pigeon-holed as some kind of supersub.

He is helped in his quest for a start at Newlands by the fact that the more experienced Frans Malherbe still looked noticeably undercooked in his comeback to Test rugby on Saturday, after only recently getting the green light to play again following a long-term neck injury.

Getting more game-time in the closing phase of the Stormers’ Super Rugby season might be better medicine for Malherbe to bolster his sharpness and confidence, and Bok coach Rassie Erasmus has also acknowledged that another Cape Town-based anchorman in his plans, Wilco Louw, has played too much rugby of late.

A quite possibly wet and heavy Newlands surface next weekend - where Du Toit’s 135kg frame would be no harm at all - seems a tantalising chance for Erasmus and specialist boiler-room assistant Matt Proudfoot to gauge his credentials from the outset of a Test.

Bear in mind that if he were to start, Du Toit would not have to pack down against England’s first-choice loosehead for both of the first two Test, Mako Vunipola, as he now quits the tour for pre-approved family reasons ahead of the finale.

The Bok head coach said after the heartening Bloemfontein series closeout that there would be “some opportunities for different guys” in the closing encounter, while also emphasising that he had no wish to devalue the status of the clash and would still be targeting the 3-0 sweep.

Frankly, it seems a realistic enough aspiration, and there is also no danger that the starting XV he puts out will look as callow as the virtual B-side he fielded against Wales in that faraway, controversial opener to his tenure.

There is already a healthy general buzz around his premier squad deployed against England thus far, and the victorious first two Tests have included lively, vital input from substitutes.

So some tweaking to his mix, with longer-term goals in mind, is perfectly justified and rotational factors will also enter his thinking: certain players have made massive contributions, on successive Saturdays at high altitude, to the series success and may warrant either a complete break or curtailment to second-half impact roles, perhaps, at Newlands.

Erasmus may also opt to stick doggedly to a few “hardebaarde” who have sweated blood in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein respectively … like the marvellously in-form No 8 Duane Vermeulen.

The former Toulon stalwart is now unaffiliated in club/franchise terms and he may be asked to squeeze out one more high-energy performance on the lush Newlands grass that he knows so well, before having a welcome break from rugby.

But apart from Du Toit, other squad members who should be in with a good crack at starting duty in the third Test include fullback Warrick Gelant, midfielders Andre Esterhuizen and Jesse Kriel and loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff.

If there are niggles afflicting any Bok players, more should be known when Erasmus holds a media briefing on Monday.

Team announcement will be on Thursday, as usual.

The England line-up may look even more widely-changed: their illustrious former centre and visiting SuperSport pundit Jeremy Guscott suggested after the Bloemfontein Test that under-fire mastermind Eddie Jones now shelve several stalwarts and field other, often more rookie customers who have largely kicked their heels on the safari so far.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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