Mon, 22 Oct 2018
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Pieter-Steph: Boks? shy new superstar

News24
19 Sep 2018, 22:37 GMT+10

Cape Town - You could almost call Pieter-Steph du Toit the Springboks' very own version of a "Twenty20" player right now.

But before any cricket-related confusion takes root, that is simply a reminder of the starkly even split between his international caps: 20 as a starter, 20 as a substitute.

Oh yes, he also sports 20 Test points, courtesy of four tries. And, er, stands 2.00 metres according to his Wikipedia profile, if you want to creatively stretch things further. (There's a twenty in his weight, 120kg, just for cherry-on-top purposes.)

Frame those smartly-aligned statistics quickly, if you fancy ... for some of them are, almost certainly, about to change dramatically.

Perhaps you shouldn't really use one match as a definitive judgement on a player. But perhaps if it is a rare-as-hen's-teeth victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand, you can.

For the foreseeable future at very least, the humble, spotlight-shirking - though perfectly pleasant when he does have to blink and chat in front of it - 26-year-old from the Swartland wheat and wine region of the Western Cape suddenly seems undroppable.

More than that, he has vaulted to the very top tier of most valued customers in the Bok ranks.

Supersub? No, those days look over for Pieter Stephanus du Toit, unless there are certain matches up the line against relative minnows - like in group play at the 2019 World Cup, for instance - where the Boks opt to restrict their most prized assets to possible impact presences, if necessary.

He was positively immense for the cause in Saturday's 36-34 Wellington upset of the world champions, almost indisputably also one of the finest teams in rugby history.

It was a match where Du Toit didn't just tick the boxes, as they say, against the very best opponents there are ... he banged down his mark with the heaviest, most legible of industrial stamps.

If not already, I invite you to watch the game again (some Bok fans delightedly claim they have it on constant repeat), as I have: my only regret on second viewing was limiting my own verdict on Du Toit's team-topping performance, a task done immediately after the Rugby Championship humdinger, to 8.5 out of 10.

Now I'd be more inclined to adjust that figure to 9, or even 9.5.

In short - and it took a more concentrated, Du Toit-specific perusal of the 80 minutes (he somehow lasted the entire duration) to come to this view - just about everything the blindside flank did was quite truly "impactful".

His tackles, and according to some stats sources he made the most of any South African on a day when defence was frequent and stressful, were proper thump-backers, for want of a more orthodox word.

His carries were seldom less than bruising, constantly abrasive, too, and his laybacks agreeably swift when he took contact, often (necessarily) from multiple All Black defenders.

The Newlands-based customer's whole game just screamed of authority; as if he had been wedded to the Bok No 7 jersey for years ... which, of course, he decidedly hasn't.

For Du Toit has, more accurately, had to be a fast learner in the role, probably twigging (even if with a hint of trepidation or reluctance initially?) that an extra string to his positional bow might be useful given the country's usual surplus of high-quality locks.

He has also, just as pertinently, graduated with flying colours from the school of hard knocks as far as his "re-education" is concerned, as his earliest exposure to No 7 was anything but blissful sailing.

Indeed, many less determined, perhaps more impatient players might well have quickly abandoned any thoughts of positional remodelling had they suffered certain of the relative indignities Du Toit did as he painstakingly learned the trade.

Bear in the mind the following: his first start as a flank (in his fifth Test match) coincided with one of the most tumultuous results in Springbok history: the defeat to Japan at Brighton in the 2015 World Cup.

It was all of 13 matches later in Du Toit's international career that he was exposed once more to the No 7 role ... and you might well say that occasion went even worse for him.

He got a much-publicised, costly run-around - twice - from gleeful England scrumhalf Ben Youngs at Twickenham, prompting many critics to almost scornfully write him off as a utility factor and simply pigeonhole him back as a second-rower following the 37-21 roasting.

Let's give kudos to usually besieged then-coach Allister Coetzee for having the courage, 11 months later, to put a daring toe back in the water, entrusting the blond-mopped competitor with the blindside cares anew in a gallant, thrilling, Championship-ending 25-24 loss to NZ at Newlands in 2017.

Increasingly more adhesive and alert from a positioning point of view in structured defence (his more spontaneous, sometimes last-ditch defending has always been inspiring) Du Toit gave a fine display.

With increasing levels of stealth, he has looked more and more streetwise in the role subsequently, as evidenced by eight of 11 further appearances in the green and gold coming on the side of the scrum rather than within its very belly.

The stirring confirmation of his "arrival" as a blindside strongman in every sense, of course, came on Saturday when his post-match tears of joy for a landmark win became one of the most iconic photographic images from the Cake Tin fixture.

He had produced a robust, imperious showing in the jersey to make a string of illustrious predecessors proud: into that category, I'd earnestly suggest, would fall such figures from the relatively modern annals as Theuns Stofberg, Gert Smal, Andre Venter, Juan Smith, Danie Rossouw and Willem Alberts.

Du Toit is also a superior athlete to several of those - while not giving an inch to many of them in pure physical dimension and desire, either - which only adds to the burgeoning excitement around his potential to prosper still further.

Remember, he has only started 10 Test matches as the dedicated No 7 for South Africa, so continued improvement seems a racing certainty.

One thing is crystal-clear, I think: regardless of specific area of responsibility (yes, he remains a massively attractive option at No 5 lock) Du Toit henceforth starts all properly blue-chip Test matches for his country.

No more of this bench malarkey for him.

He is my early tip as a likely global stand-out at the 2019 World Cup.

Whether he cherishes such status or not, and more probably the latter, a fully-fledged international star was born in Wellington.

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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