Pieter-Steph du Toit is a leader of men, and will again captain South Africa.
He will add to his one Test at the helm of the Springboks, when he led a match-23 against Wales in the United States that included 13 young men playing their first international.
Du Toit has enjoyed many accolades in a Test career which is still in its infancy.
This is a player who Jake White described as the most talented player he has ever coached.
White, the 2007 World Cup-winning coach, predicted glorious of things for Du Toit.
He said Du Toit was skilled enough to be the best lock, blindside flank and No 8 in the world. He told me he had never known a forward with such natural ability; so comfortable with ball-in-hand; so astute and so athletic.
My counter to White was Du Toit needed to play. He was on the sideline more than in the Test jungle.
The praise lacked substance until he had done the rounds in a Test arena and had shown the world there was gravitas, as opposed to potential, to the persona.
The athleticism was a given. Any neutral would recognise the talent of Du Toit. But talent alone does not make the man in Test rugby.
Test rugby maketh the man.
In 2016, Du Toit was named South Africa’s Player of the Year. He was good in that year, but he was not exceptional. It was a case of simply being better than the next best.
SuperSport analyst and former Springbok coach Nick Mallett was particularly harsh on Du Toit during the 2017 Super Rugby and Test season. He kept on asking for more from Du Toit.
Mallett, in his analysis, would challenge the praise-singers and insist Du Toit’s performance did not match the hype.
Mallett, one of the finest coaches of a Bok team, was speaking as a coach and not as an analyst. His critique of Du Toit was not as a player, but as a leader.
While others were purring about the boy wonder, Mallet was wondering about the man he believed Du Toit to be. He was insistent the expectation of Du Toit should extend beyond potential.
SA Director of Rugby and Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus shared Mallett’s view. He knew instinctively that Du Toit had every natural attribute to be the best player in the world.
Erasmus, like White, knew if he played Du Toit at lock, flank or No 8, he was capable because of a natural ability.
What Erasmus needed to know was if the player had the ‘mongrel’ and also the desire to actually go to those dark places that define the best forwards in Test rugby.
There’s a beautiful story about legendary All Blacks captain Richie McCaw in the 2011 World Cup. McCaw played his 100th Test against France in the tournament.
When asked what he remembered most about the 100 Tests, his response was the 12 he lost.
When they asked McCaw why he refused to hold the World Cup in the promotional build-up to the tournament, he said he hadn’t earned the right to hold it, and he would hold it only if the All Blacks won the tournament.
When they did, McCaw was in the change room on a drip. He had nothing left, but his response was that it was only right to be on drip with nothing left if it meant just winning the World Cup.
Isn’t it supposed to feel like this when you have climbed rugby’s Everest, is how McCaw described his exhausted post-2011 World Cup final state of being.
Erasmus, when he talks of players, only ever asks that they give everything to the 80 minutes. If that isn’t enough, then it’s because the opposition is better.
It’s what he sought most in Du Toit. He made him the captain of what was effectively the midweek Boks.
He picked him as a substitute in his initial Test match-23 against England. He wasn’t convinced that the hype matched the delivery. He challenged Du Toit to be true to what he saw in his eyes.
“There was always desire, but I wanted to see the hunger,” said Erasmus.
“He is a player who is so naturally blessed, but often with players so good, they never have to go to the darkest places to find themselves.
“What has been defining (for me) about him this season is that he has gone to those places, triumphed and emerged as a leader as much as a victor.”
Du Toit’s skills have never been a debate. What divided opinion was a view on the essence of the player. It is no more.
No player has made more tackles in the Rugby Championship. No Springbok player has had a greater impact in this year’s tournament.
The image of Du Toit in tears after the Springboks beat the All Blacks in New Zealand is already iconic.
“It’s in his eyes,” said Erasmus. “It is in his approach and it is in actions. “He would always have trusted himself, but now, those around him trust everything about his performance. He puts the team first.
“He was always a big player, but he now is a leader of players.”