Pieter-Steph du Toit: South Africa's 'Mr Consistency' growing in confidence
By Keith Moore
Last Updated: 17/12/18 12:04pm
On September 15 the Springboks pulled off one of the shocks of 2018 by beating New Zealand 36-34 in Wellington - the All Blacks' first loss to their old enemies on home soil since 2009.
After the final whistle the cameras panned to the celebrating Boks, in the middle of which an emotional Pieter-Steph du Toit was seen hugging Bongi Mbonambi.
That moment summed up the size of the scalp Rassie Erasmus' side had claimed, having been written off by everyone following their 57-0 thrashing at the hands of the same opposition in Albany the year before.
"It was just happiness," Du Toit told Sky Sports when asked about the embrace. "We didn't have many words to say.
"We'd worked so hard the whole year and we know where the country is and the fact that the country needed a bit of hope - just doing that, the burden was lifted and that emotion showed on everyone.
"It was such a relief, especially given where we'd come from. We didn't have a good track record against New Zealand in New Zealand, so our goal was to beat them there.
"That was Rassie's motto from the start; he said if we can beat New Zealand in New Zealand people will give us a chance at the World Cup and we'll get confidence from it."
It hasn't always been easy going for the Springboks, but then it hasn't been easy going for Du Toit since he burst on the scene in 2012. After strong performances for the Sharks and South Africa's U20 side, the flanker made South Africa's squad for the June internationals in 2013, but withdrew to undergo surgery on his sternum.
He could have delayed the surgery in order to realise his dream of running out for the Boks, but says that wasn't an option to him: "You would just let your team-mates down if you try play for the team and are not 100 per cent fit to play. You'll let yourself down as well if you can't give 100 per cent. It was a tough decision, but also a no-brainer."
Du Toit went on to make his international bow later that year against Wales in Cardiff: "I had a big smile on my face; it was something I was so happy about. I couldn't ask for a better place for it as well."
But shortly thereafter, successive injuries came knocking for the six-foot-six forward.
"Just after I made my Springbok debut I tore my ACL and I was out for 11 months," said Du Toit. "Then I started the Super Rugby season at the beginning of 2015 and I tore my ACL again - same knee."
Given that the World Cup was taking place in England later that year, Du Toit needed to recover as quickly as possible to give himself a chance to make the squad - so in stepped his father.
"That was something I always held myself accountable for. Trying to move forward from that is about learning and hard work. It's part of the game and is something that will always happen."
Pieter-Steph du Toit
"My dad went with me to the doctor. The doctor told us they were going to use a donor ligament and said it would take a few weeks to receive it and do tests on it. My father said 'Can't you just use mine?'.
"The doctor said he'd make some calls so we went home and that night he phoned and said 'Come in tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock and we'll do the operation'.
"They took out part of his hamstring and implanted it into my knee. Now he always jokes that I owe him a percentage of my contract - though luckily I haven't had to pay him yet!"
Du Toit made it to the World Cup, part of the squad that made it to the semi-finals before being knocked out by New Zealand, and in 2016 won South Africa's Player of the Year award on the back of brilliant form for club and country. However, it wasn't a great year overall for the Springboks, who fell to a string of defeats - including to Italy - in Allister Coetzee's first year in charge.
One of those losses came at Twickenham, where Du Toit was making just his second start at blindside flanker for the Boks and fell for two Ben Youngs dummies that led to tries for England.
"That was something I always held myself accountable for," says Du Toit. "Trying to move forward from that is about learning and hard work. It's part of the game and is something that will always happen."
Hard work epitomises Du Toit, who featured in all 14 of the Boks' Tests in 2018, and also made more tackles than anyone else in international rugby this year with 172. In the process, the Stormers man has made South Africa's blindside flanker spot his own, potentially putting to bed the debate of where he should play. He's made 14 starts at flank and 12 starts in the second row, but says his preference lies at the side of the scrum, where he feels he is growing in confidence.
"I don't mind, but at the moment I like playing No 7 a lot. I'm a bit looser and more available to do what I want on defence and attack.
"I've got more confidence than when I had my first cap, but even with that first cap you know you have to be confident because you did the right things to get there and they're backing you, so you have to back yourself."
South Africa's No 7 jersey - their blindside flanker - has been worn by several uncompromising men down the years. In the professional era Ruben Kruger, Andre Venter Willem Alberts and Juan Smith have worn it - all players with no flamboyance but tough mentalities.
Those are the characteristics that have made Du Toit successful in the position, says Bok captain Siya Kolisi, who spoke to Sky Sports ahead of the Barbarians' game against Argentina earlier this month - a game which featured both players.
"I call him 'Mr Consistency' because he just keeps on going," said Kolisi of Du Toit. "He inspires me on the field. I look at him and I know I can take him to war any day.
"He doesn't speak a lot, he speaks through his actions on the field. He shows how much it means to him. He doesn't say it, he just does it."
Words that will no doubt sit well with Du Toit, who said the same of his team-mates and the ethos of the current Springbok squad.
"We want to work for each other and not let each other down," said Du Toit. "I always try and put the team above my own ambitions. If I can do that, I can sleep well at night."