Rassie Erasmus feels that the multitalented Pieter-Steph du Toit has what it takes to keep England scrumhalf Ben Youngs at bay in the second Test, reports JON CARDINELLI in Bloemfontein.
In November 2016, the England forwards hammered their South African counterparts at Twickenham to set up an emphatic 37-21 victory. Youngs used that platform to great effect, and even managed to snipe successfully from the base of the rucks and make inroads into a poor Springbok defence.
Du Toit, playing at No 7 on that occasion, had a tough time keeping Youngs in check. Afterwards, critics slammed then coach Allister Coetzee for selecting Du Toit in that position. The general feeling was that Du Toit was too slow to feature in the back row.
Since then, Du Toit has continued to switch between lock and flank for both the Stormers and the Boks. Indeed, he was one of the standout players for the Boks in the narrow defeat to the All Blacks in Cape Town last year.
On that occasion, Du Toit wore the No 7 jersey, and certainly didn’t have any trouble matching the All Blacks loose forwards for pace or intensity.
Du Toit came off the bench last week to replace Siya Kolisi on the flank. Erasmus clearly feels that the player can do a job for the Boks in that position, and that a starting back-row combination of Kolisi, Du Toit and Duane Vermeulen can set the tone for South Africa in the crucial second Test on Saturday.
‘Ben Youngs can be very dangerous. When he takes on the correct shoulder, you will struggle to stop him,’ Erasmus said when asked about the Youngs-Du Toit incident of 2016.
‘Pieter-Steph has grown a lot as a player and leader since that game. He can be a threat himself in that position, and his defence is good enough.
‘He’s captained the Boks [against Wales in the USA] and so it’s good to have him in the mix, as it will strengthen our leadership group.’
Du Toit played No 5 in that fixture in Washington DC. Erasmus suggested that the gifted forward was unlikely to settle in one position any time soon.
‘We’re lucky to have a player like Pieter-Steph. People always want to put players in categories, but you can’t do that with Pieter-Steph,’ the Bok coach said.
‘We will use him in both positions. He will start at flank this week, but could end the game at lock, as we have two loose forwards on the bench. I’m not 100% sure what position he will play at the World Cup next year.’
The Boks leaked three tries in the first 20 minutes of the first Test at Ellis Park. Erasmus confirmed that a lot of work had been done in this department over the past week in Bloemfontein.
‘Our defence as a whole has to be much better this week. I was concerned about the first 20 minutes last week, and the final five minutes. With regards to the latter, I always felt we were going to struggle because the bench players had played against Wales and travelled to and from the USA the week before.
‘We had no wheels in the dying moments, as the guys were very tired. This week, there will be no excuse. We must finish well.’
Erasmus has selected Jesse Kriel on the bench, as he feels that the Boks could use the centre’s speed in the final quarter. Kriel replaces Elton Jantjies, which means that Willie le Roux will have to stand in at flyhalf if Handré Pollard goes down with an injury.
‘I got my predictions wrong last week,’ said Erasmus. ‘I thought England would kick everything, but they were full of running in the opening quarter.
‘That said, I would expect things to be similar this week given we are playing at altitude again. When guys get tired, the spaces will open up on defence.
‘I see that England have gone with Danny Cipriani on the bench, and he’s a guy who’s very good at identifying space and setting up teammates,’ noted the Bok coach. ‘Brad Shields will bring some speed and power to their game, and boost their lineout. It’s going to be another tough game.’
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