Padua — Pieter-Steph du Toit’s return to the side of the Springbok scrum is a pretty straightforward equation for the team’s brains trust this week‚ but where he will best express himself over time has become a burning issue.
Du Toit has packed down at lock and blindside flank for the Springboks‚ with the latter being the preference of the Bok management lately.
They argue they are well-stocked in the second row.
Du Toit’s versatility does not exactly bring clarity to the debate. He seems to be equally adept at being a tireless toiler in the boiler room of the second ball or a wrecking-ball, gainline-busting No7.
Springbok assistant coach Matt Proudfoot was not so much put on the spot‚ as encouraged to explain the player’s virtues in either position. Proudfoot told a story from last weekend when departing assistant coach Johann van Graan said his goodbyes after the Test in Paris.
"When Johan left, he had an opportunity to greet the team‚" Proudfoot said.
"He stood up and gave each a comment personal to him‚ and personal to them about their journey that they’ve been on.
"He said to Pieter-Steph that he had the ability to be one of the world’s best rugby players‚ if not [to] win the award of the world’s best rugby player.
"I don’t think a player like that is stuck in a position‚" he said about Du Toit‚ who made his debut as a lock against Wales on the end-of-season tour in 2013.
"He’s a tremendous athlete. He doesn’t say very much but he has such a high standard of professionalism about himself that whether you pick him [at] four‚ five‚ seven‚ eight — he’ll do the job … to the best of his ability."
Du Toit has certainly been effective with ball in hand when he has been deployed at No7.
There has‚ however‚ been the odd lapse in defence that has proved devastatingly costly in that position. Proudfoot preferred to focus on his strengths.
"I think the more we give him licence to play and he gets his hands on the ball and does what he does really well‚ the better it is for him.
"He’s a tremendous ball carrier with great acceleration.
"If you look at him getting off the back of a scrum his pace is just incredible.
"It will be his decision to make‚" Proudfoot said about the position that Du Toit will ultimately settle on.
"Does he want to be a four‚ or a five‚ or a seven?
"Technically‚ if you look at it in everything that happens on the field, five and seven‚ and four and seven are very close together where they are defending. Look at the first breakdown from a set phase.
"The three guys who go around the corner are three‚ five and seven.
"Both have jumping roles in the lineout. They tackle‚ run and clean. They scrum next to each other. There is not much different in what they do. It depends on the role they play.
"I know there has been a lot of talk about the position. Each player has a skill set. Our role as coaches is to marry that skill set with the requirements of the team," he said.
"We are just fortunate to have a player like Pieter-Steph that can [play] that role and make such good decisions.
"I’m excited about the way he’s been playing. He’s been one of our best players.
"Eben [Etzebeth] as well‚ Franco [Mostert] has been unbelievable‚ Lood [de Jager] has been unbelievable. What do you do? There’s not space for everyone," Proudfoot said.
"You have players like Jaco Kriel‚ Warren Whiteley [and] Marcell Coetzee who have been injured and you get a player that says ‘give me the ball, I’ll take that responsibility’.
"As a coaching staff, we are very fortunate and very blessed to have a player like that," Proudfoot said.