Cape Town - When Thomas du Toit first emerged on the rugby scene, he was a giant loosehead prop for the Western Province Schools team.
Hailing from Paarl Boys’ High, Du Toit was a thunderous presence as a ball-carrier, as well as in the scrums, and he earned his SA Schools cap in 2013.
Fast-forward to the present, and the now-27-year-old has 14 Test caps for the Springboks – not bad, but perhaps not as many as you might have expected from a front-ranker who was so dominant in his youth.
Senior rugby is tough and uncompromising no matter your size. Du Toit is still a behemoth at 1.90m and 136kg, and has made pleasing progress in his career to become the Sharks captain, having made a successful transition to tighthead.
But perhaps the shift to the righthand side of the scrum and fulfilling a leadership role in the URC and for SA A recently has forced him into his shell a little bit.
So, after being picked as part of the ‘Bomb Squad’ for Saturday’s Test against England at Twickenham (7.30pm SA time kick-off), let’s hope that we see a bit of the old Du Toit who goes on barnstorming runs and swats away any defender in his path in the second half.
“It is always be a big privilege and honour to pull that Bok jersey over my head, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to be in this team again,” the Sharks skipper said from London yesterday.
“You don’t take it for granted, and want to grab the opportunity with both hands. It’s exciting to be back in the group and see the guys again, and to play with them again.
“The confidence part that I am taking out of it (SA A games) is the fact that I actually played. I had some good game-time under my belt in the URC, and then being able to play for the SA A side.
“Although we didn’t get the result, it was still an opportunity to get game-time and play on a different level.
“So, I am taking this as a massive opportunity for myself. I last played (for the Boks) against Wales in the second Test, so you don’t take it for granted, but take it with both hands.”
Du Toit has tough competition at tighthead, with Frans Malherbe the first-choice No 3, Vincent Koch his back-up and Trevor Nyakane also in the squad, so the Twickenham encounter is an ideal time for him to remind Bok coach Jacques Nienaber of his value.
“This is really a high-pressure environment, and the guys support each other. But we really support each other by giving each other a hard time,” Du Toit said.
“We really go at each other in the scrums, and if you mess up … There are always compliments and always advice to be given. It’s a really competitive environment, but also a really high-learning, high-performance environment, which is brilliant for us.”
Du Toit made his Test debut in 2018, and worked with then-Bok forwards coach Matt Proudfoot, who is now in the same role for England.
But England having that inside knowledge of the Bok pack doesn’t bother him.
“It’s clearly a bit of an advantage that he has over us. But we also have an advantage in knowing him. He was in this environment for a very long time, so he knows what makes the guys tick – which is the edge that he has,” Du Toit said.
“But it doesn’t mean that it’s the same here since he was last here – everybody has moved on and become better rugby players, and it’s over three years later. It’s an advantage, but we are all prepared.
“England have an outstanding scrum. In their last three matches, they got a number of scrum penalties. They have a really heavy pack and have prepared well, but in the same breath, we also have a strong pack, so it will be a good match-up.
“Both teams have evolved over the last couple of years (since the 2019 World Cup final), in trying to create a different style … everyone is trying to evolve the game.”