Thomas du Toit is showing huge progress at tighthead. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Thomas du Toit, laughs when it’s suggested he will go down as one of Springbok rugby’s heaviest forwards. He is, after all, known as “Tank” to his team-mates and coaches.

“I definitely don’t weigh 137kg,” he says with a big smile, refuting some reports a while ago he was close to hitting the 140kg mark.

“I might have weighed that at one stage, but not anymore... I’m closer to 126kg now.”

Still, the 23-year-old is one large fella and his conversion from loosehead prop of renown to Test tighthead is one of a number of success stories so far this season.

Du Toit earned his third Test cap against England in the second Test in Bloemfontein yesterday, after debuting two weeks ago in the one-off Test against Wales.

He has been one of the Bok stars so far under the guidance of new coach Rassie Erasmus, but it didn’t look that way a few months ago when he started his new journey as a No 3.

The farm boy from Koringberg, just outside Moorreesburg in the Western Cape, was always a talented loosehead prop but with, among others, 100-Test veteran Beast Mtawarira standing in his way at the Sharks, Du Toit decided a move to tighthead would be best for him. He battled initially, but is now showing huge progress and looks set to be part of the Bok set-up for years to come.

“There was a big opportunity at tighthead this year, with Lourens Adriaanse moving out of the system and the Sharks having quality looseheads like Tendai and Juan Schoeman in the mix,” explained Du Toit this past week.

“I’ve had the feeling for a while that I wanted to make the move. It was my call, and I’m pleased I did it, even though there were times earlier this year that I wondered whether it was the right decision.

“But, I’ve always liked being thrown in at the deep end, being challenged. The criticism was also good for me; it gave me a reason to prove some people wrong. I’ve always enjoyed a battle and this was a big one.”

Moving from the loosehead side of the scrum to the tighthead is not simply a case of shifting from one side to the other and changing the number on your back. The two positions differ significantly and it took Du Toit some getting used to. It also meant he had to put in plenty of extra work.

“Jaco Pienaar (forwards coach) at the Sharks spent a lot of time with me; we worked hard in the pre-season and throughout the Super Rugby campaign, and then I also had a long chat with John Smit (former Bok captain and hooker, who also played tighthead at one stage) and Lourens (Adriaanse).

“The biggest difficulty was learning the technical side of scrumming, those ‘dark arts of scrumming’ everyone always talks about.

“I’ve seen more and more of it each weekend I’ve played this year because every loosehead you come up against is different; they scrum differently and ask different questions.

“I’ve also had to get used to scrumming against two guys and not one. I was hoping to improve and adapt to the new position more quickly than I did, but I’m really happy now with the progress I’ve made. I’m still going to need a full year or two to at least get to the point where I can be known as a good tighthead prop, so there’s lots of work ahead.”

Du Toit said becoming a Springbok was “fantastic and a dream come true” but he said if he could play as consistently as his big team-mate Mtawarira has done for the last 10 years that would be his goal.

“Tendai is such a consistent person; he’s always offered advice when asked for it, he’s been there for me, and I’m so thankful I’ve had him at the Sharks.

“I’ve learned a lot from him and if I can play as consistently well as he has for the last 10 years, I’ll be really happy. That is what has distinguished him from other props  his longevity and consistency.”

South African rugby fans may not know too much about 'Tank' right now but in 10 years’ time they may just be chanting his name like they’ve done with “Beast” over the years.


Sunday Independent

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