There was a strong ray of sunshine for the Sharks yesterday when Springbok lock Pieter-Steph-du Toit lit up the Super Rugby gloom by re-committing himself to the Durban franchise, despite massive interest from the Stormers, the franchise of the 22-year-year old’s birth and upbringing.
Du Toit, who is from a farm in the Swartland in the Western Cape, was talented-spotted by the Sharks Academy when he was at an unfashionable school near his family’s olive oil farm, and despite recent efforts from the Cape to reclaim him, Du Toit yesterday said his future was with the Sharks.
He also has a younger brother who has been playing for the Sharks XV, also at lock, in the Vodacom Cup.
“Frankly I do not know what all the fuss is about me joining the Stormers,” Du Toit said. “I have heard the rumours, but the truth is I am a Shark and, never mind anything else, I have a debt to pay to a franchise that welcomed me with open arms when I was a nobody out of school, and then have stuck by me for two years when I was mostly injured. I need to honour that debt, and I want to.”
Du Toit played three Super Rugby games for the Sharks in 2014 because of a knee injury and this year, just four, before being cruelly struck down by a similar injury to the same knee in the match against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
It was initially feared that he would not play again this year and it is nothing short of remarkable that the Sharks medical staff have him on track for the World Cup.
“I am in Durban doing my rehab and have been blessed that the injury is not as bad as it was last year, and there is a lifeline for me to the Springboks,” Du Toit said. “And that will be with the Sharks in the early rounds of the Currie Cup, and the plan is that I will play for a Bok team against a World XV/baa baas on June 11.
“In the meantime, I owe the Sharks for loyally sticking by me through my injuries, and Durban is where I see my future in 2016 and beyond,” the humble lock said.
This will come as a disappointment to a Stormers coaching staff that would have envisaged a dream second-row team of Eben Etsebeth and Du Toit, the pair clearly being the future lock combination of Springbok rugby.
But the Sharks also have a team to rebuild and they see Du Toit as one of their foundation stones. They are inevitably going to lose players after the World Cup in September, Willem Alberts being the first confirmed casualty to the French club system. And nobody will raise any eyebrows that French club Montpellier, coached by former Sharks coach Jake White, has said through the French media that Bismarck and Jannie du Plesiss will be their new signings.
The Sharks did not comment on this yesterday, just as they have not done over the last five years that French clubs have made similar announcements. The Du Plessis brothers have been going to France for years … and never end up going because they want to be near their terminally ill father, on the family farm in Bethlehem.
But back to the here and now and Du Toit.
“My plan is to play for the Sharks,” he said. “They are a great union and it is the great unions that rebound from difficult seasons. I have watched my team with my head in my hands the whole season – when it is not going for you, you can just about forget it until the next game.
“And then you start again. No Sharks player has given anything less of his best,” he said. “And this week will be no different and no less tougher. The Reds are coming together after a difficult season, and our guys have had enough of losing, so this amounts to an absolute cracker. My hands will be on my head again!”
The Sharks return home on Sunday and Du Toit will not be involved in their two remaining Super Rugby games, at home to the Rebels and then to the Stormers.
By Mike Greenaway
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