BLOEMFONTEIN - Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus has backed Pieter-Steph du Toit to shine at blindside flank when his team take on England in the second of three Tests here on Saturday.
Du Toit, who started at lock when he captained the Boks in Washington two weeks ago and played off the bench last weekend in Joburg, takes the place of Jean-Luc du Preez in one of two changes to the team that won 42-39 last Saturday. The other change comes at tighthead prop where Frans Malherbe replaces the “punch-drunk” Wilco Louw.
Erasmus said the 25-year-old Du Toit, who is most comfortable at lock, could fulfil a similar role to that of his former Bok team-mate of the late 90s and early 2000s, Andre Venter. Venter tipped the scales at 109kg and stood 1.95m tall in his playing days, while Du Toit is a little bigger overall at 2m tall and 120kg. And while Venter was more a blindside flank that occasionally played lock, Du Toit is a lock that is now being used as a flank.
“Pieter-Steph is always going to be close to the starting team,” said Erasmus. “We’re lucky to have a guy like him ... people want to categorize somebody as something specific, but it’s wonderful that he is in the Andre Venter mould. He can cover there and is solid in both positions. Going forward we’ll use him in both positions. I don’t think he’ll settle at blindside, but for this game we’re using him there and later he might move back to lock, because we have two loosies on the bench (Du Preez and Sikhumbuzo Notshe). Where he ends up at the World Cup I’m not sure. At this stage he covers both positions for us.”
Du Toit has performed well in the number seven jersey in recent times, including for the Stormers in Super Rugby, but a few seasons ago he was found out, first by Japan at the 2015 World Cup, and then by England’s scrumhalf, Ben Youngs, who exploited Du Toit’s lack of pace and expertise of the position in a Test at the end of 2016. The Bok coaches then were Heyneke Meyer and Allister Coetzee respectively, and on Saturday Youngs will know he has had Du Toit’s number before.
Erasmus though doesn’t seem too concerned. “Youngs is a tough guy to contain and stop anyway,” said the Bok coach about the challenge awaiting Du Toit on defence. “Pieter-Steph has grown as a player since that game in 2016, and Youngs will be a threat whoever is at seven. Overall, we have to be better defensively, we need to step it up ... also on Siya’s (Kolisi) side.”
Malherbe returns to the side after being sidelined for months with injuries, but Erasmus conceded the Stormers man won’t last the full 80 minutes. “We’ll probably get 40 minutes out of him,” said Erasmus.
Recently converted Thomas du Toit is then set to take over in the No 3 jersey, a player Erasmus feels has a bright future ahead of him. The Sharks youngster was impressive off the bench in Joburg last week after only recently swapping from being a loosehead to a tighthead prop. “We’re trying to build Thomas into a world class tighthead prop. We want to build him up slowly ... he did well last time and we hope he does well again,” said Erasmus.
The big change on the bench sees Jesse Kriel come into the matchday squad for Elton Jantjies, leaving the Boks without a recognised flyhalf among the replacement. “We felt we needed some more speed last week when the game opened up so we’ve gone for Jesse, who can play 13 and anywhere in the outside backs,” said Erasmus. “Willie (le Roux) will cover flyhalf and at a push even Faf (de Klerk) can do the job.”
Kickoff on Saturday is 5.05pm.
Springbok team: Willie le Roux, S’bu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Franco Mostert, RG Snyman, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Beast Mtawarira. Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Steven Kitshoff, Thomas du Toit, Jean-Luc du Preez, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Ivan van Zyl, Jesse Kriel, Warrick Gelant