Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The words “Victor” and “Matfield” ought to be enough
to ensure that bright Sharks lock investment Pieter-Steph du Toit seeks a fast,
forceful start to the 2014 rugby season.
A magnificent first opportunity comes his way on Saturday as
his Super Rugby franchise face an unusually taxing and high-profile first
gallop of the year against English Premiership leaders and South African-laden
Saracens at Allianz Park in north London.
Let’s not forget that if veteran lineout great Matfield is,
indeed, serious about a comeback at the age of 36, he will supposedly be eased
gradually back into first-class activity by the Bulls.
Fifteen years his junior at 21, Du Toit requires less
conservatism in game-time management -- and should try to use that to his
advantage as he seeks to convince Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer that he is the
man for the No 5 jersey, possibly as early as this season.
There is no question that Meyer, so familiar with Matfield’s
skills and strategic acumen over the course of many years at Loftus, will
monitor the iconic athlete’s return with no lack of interest, bearing the 2015
World Cup in mind and the wish to balance his second-row resources – both at
Nos 4 and 5 – between youth and gnarly experience.
But at the same time, he has made no secret of his
admiration for the two-metre, 115kg Du Toit, right from the beginning of his
tenure as Bok mastermind in mid-2012.
Meyer’s understandable fear is that if he partners the
Sharks rookie with almost as young Eben Etzebeth (22), the Bok lock department
will undoubtedly have a raw look to it.
A counter to that view, of course, is that if Etzebeth could
make such enormous strides in the enforcer/front-jumper berth, why shouldn’t
also Du Toit, if given a proper crack at No 5?
In addition, the quicker this potentially exciting alliance
is established, the more equipped they will be to shine as a combo at the
UK-staged World Cup.
While Matfield isn’t the only possible rival candidate to
the emerging Du Toit for No 5 in Tests – Flip van der Merwe did well there on
the triumphant European tour of 2013, though really remains more suited to four
– his legend is such that the Sharks youngster will find it impossible to
eliminate the selection threat posed by him from his mind.
Which is why ticking as many performance boxes as possible,
personally, by Du Toit is a reasonably urgent task and should ideally begin in
the appealing fixture against Sarries.
Yes, this outing comes desperately early in the South
African rugby year – it would not be a train smash, frankly, if the slightly
experimental Sharks side loses to a team in their own mid-season and thus far
better primed for the scrap – but that should not prevent the blond prospect
from having a special wish to excel, in partnership with a new ally here in
The latter has effectively followed Sharks director of rugby
Jake White back to South African shores from the Brumbies.
Not only is this match taking place in English winter
conditions – perhaps not too dissimilar to what will be experienced at the
autumnal RWC in 2015 – but Du Toit also finds himself up against no slouches at
all on the opposition side.
Saracens captain Steve Borthwick is a suitably pockmarked,
34-year-old veteran of second-row combat, holder of 57 Test caps and a former
England skipper into the bargain.
His partner will be KZN-born Mouritz Botha, also no stranger
to the white jersey of his adopted country and, at 31, another customer who
will significantly eclipse Du Toit in street wisdom.
The Sharks lock has been blooded gently into Bok plans,
having earned two caps off the bench on the latest northern hemisphere conquest
– 12 late minutes against Wales and then 13 against France.
He should get a lot longer on the park on Saturday, in what
amounts to a tidy little “trial”, doesn’t it?
*The match is at 16:30 SA time and will be screened live on SS1 and SHD
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing