Durban – Bakkies Botha will forever remain in the hearts of Springbok supporters but even the most ardent Blue Bulls fan will wonder if bringing him back to Bok duty at the age of 34 has merit, given that he could well be past it by the time the Rugby World Cup comes around in 2015.
Quite simply, the Bok second row for that tournament in England should be Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit, and the sooner that pair get going in Test matches, the better.
They should be the starting locks in every Test possible between now and 2015 to give them the opportunity of developing into the best second row in Bok history.
Etzebeth is 23 and Du Toit 21, and they are two of the most exciting forwards to emerge in our game in the last two years. They could well become a combination to rival that of Botha and Victor Matfield, or even better them.
Etzebeth is as bruising as Bakkies but has more skills and better ball-carrying ability. Du Toit has shown for the Sharks that he is not only comfortable in the No 5 role, but damn effective in it. His Man of the Match performance in the Currie Cup final of Test match intensity last week speaks for itself.
It was a defining 80 minutes at Newlands for the grandson of the famous ’60s Bok, Piet “Spiere” du Toit, who has been described by many knowledgeable critics as one of the strongest men to wear the green and gold.
Clearly Pieter-Steph has inherited the genes. Former Sharks coach John Plumtree told me of the difficulty Du Toit has in the gym – his hands are so large that he battles to grip the weights. He needs thicker bars for hands that can be aptly described as hubcaps. Those hands were a worry in Du Toit’s early matches for the Sharks. He sometimes had butter fingers but in recent games his handling has been superb.
In last week’s final, he plucked many a high ball out of the air and showed that an initial weakness in his game is now a strength. Where other forwards wait for the ball to descend into the bread basket, Du Toit approaches the ball and takes it in the air.
That’s how it is done in Aussie Rules, which is all about kicking and catching.
Du Toit has been much hyped since breaking into the Sharks team last year – probably too hyped – but he is delivering on his potential.
Heyneke Meyer has recognised his ability and he has been part of the Bok squad this year, but did not get to play. And that is fine.
Meyer did not want to rush him and wanted him to have a taste of what the Springboks are about. It has been sensible handling of the youngster, but he is now ready for the step up.
There is no other No 5 lock that is putting his hand up to be Etzebeth’s partner.
Juandre Kruger, Meyer’s initial choice, has been a disappointment. Flip van der Merwe is useful but not skilled and tends to give away penalties. Franco van der Merwe is workman-like and good at running the lineouts, but not in the class of Du Toit, while Andries Bekker does not seem to be part of Meyer’s plans.
Du Toit is the man for the job and must be blooded at international level as a matter of urgency. The imminent end-of-year tour is the ideal chance for Meyer to get him going with Etzebeth.