South Africa

Du Toit eyes Bok greatness

Sun, 06 Oct 2013 10:18
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From the time I learned what a Springbok was I knew I wanted to be one
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Sharks lock Pieter-Stef du Toit has a burning desire to make his Springbok debut and become the best No.5 lock in world rugby.

In the last two years, South African rugby has been blessed with an influx of young, exciting talent.

The introduction of the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Jan Serfontein and the unfortunately injury-prone Johan Goosen will go a long way to easing the minds of a nation who can be forgiven for being unwilling to move on from an era that boasted some of its best talent in the professional era.

In one fell swoop after the 2011 World Cup, the Boks lost legends in the form of Victor Matfield and John Smit. They may not have had like-for-like swaps with these players, but the promise being shown by the youthful newcomers bodes well for the future.

One such youngster is Du Toit. A supremely gifted player who grew up playing in the hard fields of Boland which, coupled with a farming upbringing, has moulded him into a tough character that could very well feature favourably in the next few chapters of Springbok rugby.

With the exit of Matfield and – on a less formal basis – Bakkies Botha, South Africa were left searching to fill a gap left by the best lock pairing in the world. Etzebeth was the first to step up and take charge of encompassing the role of a Bok enforcer, but the Boks have been looking for that line-out kingpin to dominate that side of the set-piece.

In Du Toit, they may well have found the man whose name will be paired with Etzebeth for the next few World Cups.

Friendly off the field, he speaks passionately about fishing, friendships and the outdoors with feverish excitement, but get him onto the topic of playing for the Boks and his tone changes noticeably in respect for the team that he sees as the ultimate rugby accolade.

“My grandfather was a Springbok and from the time I learned what a Springbok was I knew I wanted to be one.” he says.

The time of learning of the Springboks would have been on his parents’ farm, a place he speaks of with enormous fondness, and a place that comes up often in conversation with him.

“My friends, brothers and I played rugby on the farm so that is where the passion for the game grew and that passion is still there today.”

It was on that farm with those friends that he listened to the announcement of the Springbok team for the June internationals this year, and heard his own name in the squad.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was just the best feeling of my life so far. My family was there, my friends were there and when my name was announced everyone just jumped up and screamed. My phone struggled for about a week after that!”

That happiness was to be short lived, however, when he picked up an injury shortly thereafter which gave him a very tough decision to make early on in his career.

“It was very difficult. I could have played through the pain and gotten my first Springbok cap but I knew I couldn’t afford to take the field at 50% – if you want to play for the Springboks you have to be at 100%, giving everything because that is the next level.”

An impressive outlook for someone who was within touching distance of realising his biggest dream. His humility and respect for the Boks is a product of his upbringing, but all the more significant when you realise he may not have had his chance at all had he not crucially developed late in his high school career.

“I went to a school called Hoerskool Swartland which is located in Malmesbury – it was close to my farm which is why I chose to go there because I didn’t want to be too far away from it. Growing up I was always very tall but didn’t have much speed or power.

“When I eventually grew into this body of mine and I could move around things started going slightly better. So it was only in Grade 12 that I started to shine a little bit. I made Craven Week for Boland that year, then got selected in the SA Under-18 High Performance squad. After I played a few games for them I then went over to Durban to join the Sharks where I have been ever since.”

Speaking to Du Toit, he says he owes a lot of his strength to his childhood spent on the farm, so I asked him if his dad still puts him to work when he visits.

“He doesn’t have to put me to work, I love working on that farm,” he says through laughter, “I love just being on a tractor or grabbing a shovel and helping the guys out.

“I never thought of it as work. If I ever had time off from school I wouldn’t be lying around in the house I would be out on the farm working. And if I was playing, I was playing on the farm with the workers. I had a very nice childhood and I actually miss it quite a lot.”

Pieter-Stef is the oldest of four sons who have come up the ranks in that area, and much like the famous Whitelock family of New Zealand, you have to wonder how their parents endured the financial suffering of feeding a pack of growing young forwards.

Speaking of his siblings, Du Toit says there is one who managed to venture outside the pack.

“Ja, there is a flyhalf among us. The youngest is a flank and there’s another lock who can play on the flank too. My one brother is in Grade 12 at the moment – he’s coming to the Sharks next year. Of course we all dream of playing for the Springboks one day.”

The big forward often played flank in his career, but says that he has ended the affair with loose forward play in favour of concentrating on becoming the best No.5 lock in world rugby.

When Du Toit does make his Springbok debut, likely on the end-of-year tour, chances are he will do so alongside fellow youngster Etzebeth; a pairing that has plenty of South Africans optimistic for the future.

“I don’t really mind where I play or with whom,” he states, “I just want to play rugby, and especially for the Boks. But yes, of course it would be a huge honour to play alongside Eben in a Springbok team.”

Du Toit would have only just finished primary school when some of his current Springbok teammates were making their respective debuts for the Springboks, so it must be that much more surreal for him to take to the training paddock alongside his heroes, but he says that they are all very grounded and extended a warm welcome to him.

“It’s amazing just to see the amount of experience those guys have and the type of people they are as well – I have so much respect for them. They know what you want to get out of life and they have their own way of doing things but they respect your way of doing yours.

“They are unbelievably friendly, too. You walk in there and they make it feel like you are at your own union. I think that is one of the things that they are focusing on at the Springboks right now. They don’t want it to feel like work, they want it to be your second home.”

Du Toit’s humility and eagerness to add value to South African rugby seems to fit well with the current ethos of the Springboks. At the moment, the Springboks have a group of players who show the type of passion that their supporters have been yearning to see for many a season.

It means something to them to be out on that field, and for that, credit must go to the very emotionally-available Heyneke Meyer and his backroom staff.

And to know what it meant to this youngster from Boland to return to the Springbok camp prior to the weekend’s epic at Ellis Park following an injury, you only need to look at his last comment on Twitter:

“What a wonderful feeling to be back in the Bok squad! This is where I want to spend my rugby career for ever!”

By Keith Moore

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