‘Pieter-Steph can be world’s best’
He’s only played a handful of Vodacom Super Rugby games, and started in even fewer, but Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is firmly convinced that the Sharks’ Pieter-Steph du Toit can become the best No 5 lock in world rugby.
It’s not the first time that Meyer, who was speaking during the national training camp in Cape Town, has publicly rated Du Toit, who is the grandson of the legendary former Bok and Boland prop Piet ‘Spiere’ du Toit.
Discovered at Swartland High School by Sharks commercial manager Rudolf Straeuli, Du Toit was punted by Meyer last year as a potential star of the 2015 World Cup.
According to Meyer, Du Toit is still on the way to realising that potential, with the national coach becoming even more determined that the Sharks player come through now that Andries Bekker is set to leave for Japan.
“The position of No 5 lock has been one that I have been worried about since I took up the job following on from the retirement of Victor Matfield,” said Meyer.
“The No 5 lock is the most important player in that he calls the lineout and also looks after the far-side defence. The lineouts are particularly important, as you will see from looking at the way the Super Rugby matches have been decided just recently. It is a really technical area, and far more complicated than many people watching might think it is.
“It was because we only lost one lineout on the whole tour that we were able to get through the last end-of-year tour without losing a match. We have identified it as a key area. Juandre Kruger has done well for us, but Andries (Bekker), who is playing the best rugby of his career, is leaving for Japan and won’t be available. Juandre will also be playing overseas, but while it won’t be ideal, he will still be available.
“We have spent some time trying to identify potential replacements. I have told Johan van Graan, our forwards coach and one of the best lineout coaches in the world who worked many years with Victor at the Bulls, that he needs to start working with Pieter-Steph. I have told him that even if getting Pieter-Steph ready means he has to spend many days at Pieter-Steph’s home staying with him and working with him through the day and night, it is something I want him to do.
“Pieter-Steph is a player with huge potential. I know he plays more like a No 4 lock at the moment, but I really believe he can become the best in the world as a No 5 lock. I must give credit for the Sharks for backing him to start even though he is still just 20.”
Meyer added that there are other players he has identified, and he also said there were some players he might consider moving position.
The last possibility could involve Eben Etzebeth, who became the best No 4 lock in the world, in Meyer’s opinion, during his first season, but who played much of his junior rugby as a middle of the lineout jumper.
For now though it is Du Toit that Meyer appears most interested in fast-tracking, and his remaining appearances for the Sharks in Super Rugby are sure to be watched with keen interest.
Meyer said that after being on both sides of the fence, this was the year where the various franchises have co-operated best with the Springbok coach.
“I must thank the franchise coaches for the way they have helped me out and also for allowing me time to work with the players ahead of what is going to be another difficult year for us,” said the Bok coach.
Meyer said he had been pleased with the team spirit and passion for the Bok brand that had been displayed since the players gathered in Cape Town on Monday.
“They’ve been knocking the stuffing out of each other in Super Rugby so I was a bit nervous, but I was very surprised at how quickly the guys got the spirit of last year back and got on with each other. They immediately started behaving like a group of friends again, which was great.
"I said beforehand that it is important when players come into a national camp that they feel like they are taking a step up, and they must also be pleased to be here.”
Meyer said he and the coaches had been taking the players through some new moves that they had been working on, particularly some focused on the lineout drills, and they had been pleased with how quickly the players had picked up what was being communicated.
“It’s really not as easy as you think. The players have been working with different colour codings at their franchises so it is natural for them to have to think twice when they are confronted by something less familiar,” he said.