Port Elizabeth - South Africans can expect to see more of Pieter-Steph du Toit in the loose-forward role that he played for the Springboks in the closing stages of their dramatic comeback against Ireland in Johannesburg last week.
Du Toit has been brilliant in leading the lineout for both the Stormers and the Boks this year. As he explained, this is the first year in several that he has not been plagued by injury, and the momentum he has picked up has underlined why he was regarded as a potential strong challenger for Victor Matfield’s place when the legendary Bulls player was still playing.
Du Toit missed the first test of the series against Ireland because of a hamstring train picked up during the Stellenbosch training camp. He would have been a strong challenger for a starting place at his new franchise home ground of Newlands, but it was initially thought that the former Sharks player would be out for between two to six weeks.
His recovery though was much quicker than expected, and he ended up playing a strong role for the Boks off the bench at Newlands after replacing Lood de Jager. He started in the No 5 jersey for the first time at Emirates Airlines Park, and his leadership of the lineout was superb. However, so was his general play in his former role as a blindside flank when he switched positions later on.
Du Toit’s switch to the side of the scrum for Siya Kolisi wasn’t scripted beforehand, but according to assistant coach Matt Proudfoot, it went off so well that it is something that we can expect to see much more of in the future.
“Having a player like him who has flexibility in being able to switch between lock and flank is a huge benefit for us and it played a big role in the way we won the game in the last quarter hour in the second test,” said Proudfoot.
“We knew at the point that Pieter-Steph made the switch that we desperately needed an extra ball carrier. We were able to bring on Franco Mostert, so we could move Pieter-Steph to the flank and still have that robustness in the second row.
“International rugby has become a real slog in the first half, it has become about which team makes the least errors and who controls territory. So to have that second half flexibility is great. Having him there means we can tinker with the bench and we have extra options. It means when we go into a game we can go in with either a six/two split between forwards and backs or a five/three split.”
Proudfoot said that the move to the flank, where Du Toit started his career with the Sharks and where he played for the Boks in the loss to Japan in Brighton at last year’s World Cup, did not limit Du Toit’s ability to continue to lead the lineout.
“Pieter-Steph is very sharp and he has led our lineout extremely effectively. We didn’t want to limit his effect in that regard so when Mostert came on he took up the No 7 channel at lineout time and it worked well for us,” said the assistant coach.
Proudfoot focussed on the benefits to the team of having Du Toit able to switch roles when needed later in the game, but in time it could well turn out to be a starting option. The currently injured Lood de Jager has admirers in the Bok management and may have too many strong attributes to be forever limited to a substitute’s role.
“Lood is a big boy and he did really well for us in that first test. He controlled the lineouts for us, and although he was stripped three times during the game, he brought a really strong physical presence to our game,” said Proudfoot.
Having Eben Etzebeth, De Jager and Du Toit in the same pack would certainly give the Boks plenty of physical presence as well as a formidable lineout.
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