Cape Town - Do not be too surprised if a
remarkably youthful combination of Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit
starts in the second row for South Africa in the opening Test of the season
against Italy in Durban on June 8.
For several years up until 2011, the
Springboks boasted a feared “old firm” at lock in the shape of Victor Matfield
and Bakkies Botha.
The athletic, lineout specialist Matfield
retired after earning 110 caps for his country, whilst Botha still plies his trade aggresively for Toulon and has not been written off as a Test candidate
aged 33 and after 76 Bok appearances.
GALLERY: Springbok training session
But it seems quite possible that, in the
second season of Heyneke Meyer’s tenure as national coach, they will go to the
opposite extreme - pinning their faith in the 21-year-old Etzebeth in the No 4
jersey and Du Toit, only 20, wearing five.
Some might brand that madness but bear in
mind that the abrasive former, expected to be back in action for the Stormers
very shortly after an ankle injury, made a massive breakthrough in 2012, to
such an extent that by the end of it he already sported 11 caps and looked
incredibly at home in the international environment.
Now Du Toit - like Etzebeth, Cape Town-born
but representing the Sharks in Super Rugby - may also be fast-tracked into the
Test picture in the blink of an eyelid.
The strong but mobile and skilful utility
forward - he can also play blindside flank very effectively - was already
spoken about glowingly by Meyer last season, when he contributed significantly
to the Baby Boks winning the IRB Junior World Championship, and those eulogies
clearly aren’t about to stop.
The coach did not hide his admiration when
he addressed the media after a training session at Westerford High School on
Monday during the first extended Bok squad mini-camp of the year.
“I’ve told (forwards coach) Johan van
Graan, who I rate as one of the best lineout coaches in the world, that I don’t
care if he sleeps at Pieter-Steph du Toit’s house for three weeks, or at the
Sharks, but he really needs to start working with him.
“That’s because I truly believe although he
plays like a four (where he is currently stationed for the Sharks, with Franco
van der Merwe the No 5 lock), he can be one of the best fives ever.
“It will take time, but I’m thankful to the
Sharks for (giving him some starts this year); he’s only 20 but starting to
call lineouts as well.”
Meyer has witnessed several potential Bok
No 5-suited locks cease to become available for South Africa for various
reasons over the past couple of years, including Matfield, Johann Muller, Danie
Rossouw (who can cover both slots) and most recently Andries Bekker, who is
Japan-bound to Kobelco Steelers after the Super Rugby season.
He said Bekker’s departure for Asia was a
blow, as he was playing some of his best rugby again and was an established
master not only at lineout jumping itself but also in making the all-important
Meyer will still be able to summon the
likes of Juandre Kruger and Van der Merwe, even though the former also goes
abroad soon to link up with Racing Metro in France, but it does seem as though
the Boks plan some daring exposure for Du Toit during the June Test window
Meyer reiterated that “obviously the ideal
is to pick players based in SA, especially as you can involve them in camps
But he also conceded: “You have to field
your best side and rugby is changing (in terms of international player
On that theme, Meyer talked up the
continued usefulness to his cause of Bath-based former Stormers/WP flank
“You want guys who are prepared to die for
South Africa and Francois Louw is someone like that; from day one he’s always
said how he’s dreamt of playing for the Boks.
“He probably changed our season (last
year), coming in with his work on the floor combined with someone like Duane
(Vermeulen). He’s been great.”
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