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A colossal choice


“Ultimately though, it is about what I can offer to the Springboks to make them successful.”

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WHEN Pieter-Steph du Toit’s career was in its infancy at the Sharks, coach John Plumtree revealed the interesting fact that some of the gym equipment needed altering to accommodate the towering giant from the Swartland.

“He has got hubcaps for hands!” Plumtree exclaimed. “He can’t grip the bars properly. They are too small for his hands and he’s getting blisters on his thumbs we have to get him thicker bars.”

Du Toit gets his strength (and size) from his famous grandfather, Piet “Spiere” du Toit, who played 14 Tests at tighthead prop for the Springboks between 1958 and 1961. Many critics regard him as the strongest ever Bok.

“He died when I was four but I recall him tossing me about with those powerful arms,” Du Toit says. “The workers on the farm tell stories of his strength. Once he held a tractor up on his own so that the wheel could be changed because they could not find the jack.”

Those big hands of Du Toit are perfect for plucking rugby balls out of the air in line-outs but we have also seen in recent seasons that they are well-equipped for fending off defenders while on the charge as a flank and in general loose forward play.

And this begs the question of just where the 2m, 120kg colossus should be playing in the green and gold. The jury is split as to whether he is an out-and-out lock or an imposing blindside flank.

Du Toit has played 37 Tests and six of his last eight have been on the flank. He has also played on the side of the scrum for the Stormers. So where does his future lie given that South Africa is blessed with excellent second row stocks and similarly there are quality options at loose forward.

Rassie Erasmus is not copping out when he says Du Toit should be considered equally for both positions. Erasmus picked the 25-year-old at flank for the second and third Tests against England in June and then at lock last week against Argentina. Du Toit is set to again partner Eben Etzebeth in the second row for the return Test this week against the Pumas.

Erasmus says it is nonsense that a player like Du Toit should be derided as a Jack of all trades and master of none. The Boks coach has said that in the modern game, it is a big advantage for a player to be able to adapt to different game situations.

Erasmus points out the case of his former teammate at the Cheetahs and the Springboks, André Venter, who was a massive presence on the flank while often slotting into the second row in the second half of Test matches, under coach Nick Mallett.

“Pieter-Steph is a fantastic rugby player and it would be a pity for him to pigeon-holed,” the Bok coach says. “He is always going to be close to the starting team. We’re lucky to have a guy like him people want to categorise a player as something specific, but it’s wonderful that he is in the André Venter mould. He can cover there and is solid in both positions.

“Going forward we’ll use him in both positions. Where will he end up at the World Cup? I’m not sure. At this stage he covers both positions for us.”

Of course, he can do just that off the bench, making him an impact player of tremendous value, although the player himself would naturally prefer to start in one role or the other.

The thing is that if Du Toit plays off the bench, it will allow Erasmus to combine Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, an exceptional partnership at the 2015 World Cup. And then there is the other good lock options in Franco Mostert and RG Snyman So perhaps Du Toit’s versatility counts against him starting.

What is Du Toit’ feelings on where he should play?

“I will play anywhere for the Springboks, but I must admit I am growing fond of flank,” he says. “I like flank more because you get to carry the ball more and influence the game in open play.

“Ultimately though, it is about what I can offer to the Springboks to make them successful.”