CAPE TOWN – Winning the South African Rugby Player of the Year award once is an achievement on its own. Bagging the trophy twice in three years is seriously impressive.
According to star lock Pieter-Steph du Toit, the first time he won the award was a “great feeling”.
This time, though, having won it after making more appearances in his “favourite position”, it feels even better.
After an outstanding 2018 season, Du Toit was nominated alongside another previous winner Malcolm Marx, as well as Aphiwe Dyantyi, Franco Mostert and Handré Pollard, becoming only the fifth player since 1992 to claim the crown more than once.
The others are Bryan Habana (2005, 2007 and 2012), Schalk Burger (2004 and 2011), Jean de Villiers (2008 and 2013) and Fourie du Preez (2006 and 2009).
The Stormers lock was one of the Springbok standouts in a rather bleak 2016 season, and his impressive individual performances saw him scoop the major award for the first time.
He played in all 12 Tests that season – 11 at lock and one at blindside flank – and in 2018, the No 7 jersey became a regular fit for Du Toit under Rassie Erasmus, while he and Steven Kitshoff were the only Boks to feature in every game of the 2018 season.
And the more he played in the back row, the fainter the concerning images became of the towering presence being exposed around the fringes.
“I came off the bench a lot in 2016. It’s a great feeling to win the award, but I feel like it was even better this time around,” Du Toit said at Newlands on Thursday.
“I had a lot more game time in that number seven position in 2018. I started a lot, and I started for the most part in my favourite position.”
For the Boks as a collective, there probably aren’t a lot of things that can beat a victory over the All Blacks in Wellington.
It’s a coup Du Toit of course mentioned when he addressed the media in Cape Town on Wednesday afternoon, while “becoming more comfortable” among the loose forwards was a personal highlight.
“Beating the All Blacks in New Zealand last year was special for myself, as well as the team. Personally, it was a highlight to become more comfortable in that No 7 position.
“There’s a lot I can improve on. I want to become a stronger ball-carrier and make more line-breaks.
“I can also do more to secure the ball at the rucks, and ensure that the opposition battles to make the steal.”
SA Rugby Awards Winners
Player of the Year: Pieter-Steph du Toit. Other nominees: Aphiwe Dyanyti, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Handré Pollard
Young Player of the Year: Sbu Nkosi
Team of the Year: Springbok Sevens
Coach of the Year: Neil Powell
Springbok Sevens Player of the Year: Dylan Sage
Junior Springbok Player of the Year: Wandisile Simelane
Super Rugby Player of the Tournament: Aphiwe Dyantyi (Lions)
Well done to Sbu Nkosi (Young Player of the Year), @Dylan_Sage11 (7s Player of the Year), @Neil5Powell (Coach of the Year) and the @Blitzboks (Team of the Year) on their awards for 2018. #LoveRugby pic.twitter.com/wQI98RSo86— South African Rugby (@Springboks) February 7, 2019
Currie Cup Premier Division Player of the Year: Sergeal Petersen (Western Province)
Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year: Etienne Taljaard (Valke)
SuperSport Rugby Challenge Player of the Year: Chris Smith (Pumas)
Craven Week Player of the Tournament: Evan Roos (Western Province)
Referee of the Year: Jaco Peyper
Women’s Achiever of the Year: Nolusindiso Booi@WynonaLouw