Japan/RWC: The Boks closing in on milestones

2019-08-30 13:04
Pieter-Steph du Toit
Pieter-Steph du Toit (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – An added incentive awaits Pieter-Steph du Toit, the SA Rugby Player of the Year, to be part of a revenge triumph by the Springboks over Japan when they meet in a pre-World Cup Test at Saitama next Friday (12:15 SA time).

Not only will Du Toit - almost certain to start as Rassie Erasmus is expected to name a full-strength line-up - be as keen as any team-mate to wipe out memories of the massive 34-32 Brighton upset at RWC 2015, but it will be the occasion of his 50th Test cap.

Now firmly established as demon Bok blindside flanker, he had earned his fifth cap and maiden start in green and gold on that sickening date four years ago – a rush job, too, as he was a late replacement at No 7 for injured initial pick Willem Alberts and still overwhelmingly considered a lock at that point.

Needless to say, it was as “difficult” a game for Du Toit, now 27, as it was for most colleagues, although he should enter this rematch against the Brave Blossoms in an altogether different, more positive frame of mind.

Assuming that they get game-time on Friday, two other Boks will shift much closer to the half-century mark in appearances and then have a chance of getting there during RWC 2019 itself: Duane Vermeulen presently has 48 caps, and Jesse Kriel 44, so the No 8 seems likely to hoist his 50th fittingly in the sizzling pool opener against the All Blacks at Yokohama on September 21.

If he begins against Japan and then at least twice more in the World Cup, veteran loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira will move from 97 to 100 starts for South Africa, making him the first ever Bok prop to reach three figures on that basis, although he already has 110 caps in total if you include substitute appearances.

Just two more caps, whether as a starter or off the bench, over the next few weeks will also see “Beast” overtake RWC 2007-winning prop/hooker John Smit (111) and become third most-capped Springbok behind Victor Matfield (127) and Bryan Habana (124).

Back on Vermeulen, if he makes four starts in Japan (46 in total as things stand) he will become the first Bok eighth-man to reach 50 and overhaul Pierre Spies (47 starts) in the process.

The brawny loose forward has never been a substitute at international level, but two of his appearances have been in the No 7 jersey.

Similarly, Willie le Roux (46 starts at No 15) is four away from becoming just the second Springbok to reach 50 specifically as fullback – Percy Montgomery remains runaway leader with 80 starts in the berth – even if he has a total of 55 caps already; Le Roux has played a handful of Tests at wing.

Meanwhile four starts for Eben Etzebeth (currently 74) in the Far East would see him leapfrog Bakkies Botha (77) to become second most-capped Bok starter in the second row behind Matfield (121, plus six extra caps as a sub).

Some short-term incentives beckon for first-choice Bok flyhalf Handre Pollard, too, in Japan.

He needs seven points (from current 93, all posted at the 2015 event) to become just the second Springbok after Montgomery (111) to get to the century mark in total RWC points.

Still way out in front overall in that capacity is England’s Jonny Wilkinson, who rattled up 277 RWC points between the 1999 and 2011 events.

Pollard was second highest points-scorer for all countries at his maiden World Cup in the UK four years ago, only eclipsed by Argentina’s Nicolas Sanchez (97).

*Although it is an optimistic scenario at this point, should 38-year-old Bok hooker Schalk Brits nudge out either Bongi Mbonambi or Malcolm Marx to a place in the match-day 23 if the Boks make the RWC 2019 final, he could bump out New Zealand’s Brad Thorn (36 and 262 days) as oldest player to appear in the showpiece.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rwc 2019  |  pieter-steph du toit  |  rugby


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