What might have been.
Pieter Steph du Toit is currently gearing up for this summer’s visit of the British & Irish Lions to South Africa. Having spent most of 2020 recovering from a life-threatening injury, the prospect of testing himself against the best again is a massive bonus.
It was reported by The42, earlier this week, that du Toit and Munster Rugby had discussed a one-year contract that would see him effectively replacing CJ Stander for the 2021/22 season. However, as his interview with House of Rugby on March 7 shows, the IRFU had good reason to block the move.
During his chat with Eimear Considine and Fergus McFadden [LISTEN from 12:10 below], the Bulls and Stormers star was asked about the possibility of joining his compatriots Damian De Allende and RG Snyman at Munster.Pieter Steph du Toit pictured with Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi and Francois Louw. (Credit: Getty Images)
Du Toit was touted for the very highest level of the game, even before he helped South Africa to a World Rugby U20 title back in 2012. He came into the Springboks side a year later and learned from the likes of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha. His versatility and athleticism meant he could cover the second row and flanker roles.
Two bad ACL injuries, in 2014 and 2015, slowed his progress but – thanks to a remarkable sacrifice from his father – he made it back in time for the 2015 World Cup and did not look back. Du Toit had a relatively clear run up to and beyond the 2019 World Cup, where he played a key role in helping his country to the Webb Ellis trophy.
Du Toit was named World Rugby Player of the Year for 2019 but injury was about to strike when he was in his prime.
A haematoma to his leg – picked up in a Super Rugby game in February 2020 – saw him rushed to hospital as he was rapidly losing blood flow. It was only the quick thinking of the medical staff, and the work of a vascular surgeon in Cape Town, that prevented his leg from being amputated. He commented:
“It was quite a serious injury, to my upper left leg, called Compartment Syndrome. I’ve been struggling with it since then. Luckily enough, I’m now coping with it right well. I was fortunate, from one point of view, that there has been a long break without me missing any international rugby.”
“I had a couple of surgeries, after, and a couple of set-backs,” du Toit added. “It’s a long story, but I had to go in for a second operation because there was some stuff that wasn’t fixed properly the first time. Because of lockdown, I couldn’t follow up with doctors the whole time, and that probably set me back a few weeks. But, luckily, everything is fixed at the moment. And, I must say, having a physiotherapist around – in my wife – does help.”
Du Toit opted out of his contract with The Stormers, last May, but eventually signed up to an extension that would take him up until after the Lions Tour.
When Considine asked if there was a possibility that he could join Munster’s South African contingent, du Toit’s reply showed what his priority is:
“Like I said, for me at the moment, my main thing is to get back on the rugby field. It has been a tough road for me, this past year.
“Last week, Monday [March 1], was exactly one year since I had my first operation. And last week was when I first started training with the team again. So, for me, I’m just focusing on day-by-day training and we’ll see how it goes.”
“I spoke to Marcell Coetzee there,” he added, “and I know he has really enjoyed his time there. A lot of the South African guys are loving Ireland. I spoke to some friends that have holidayed there, too. I must say, every time I’ve gone to Ireland, I have enjoyed it – the hospitality, the people and, of course, the Guinness is always nice.”
The Guinness may have to wait a while.
Given the seriousness of the injury sustained by du Toit, the two surgeries and the length of time he spent out, it is understandable why the IRFU would not sanction a €600,000 deal for one season of du Toit’s services, even if some of it was going to be privately funded.
Even without RG Snyman getting injured six minutes into his Munster debut – and missing all of this season – it was a risky move. Throw Covid cut-backs into the mix and Munster were always fighting an uphill battle, even with one of the world’s best players lined up.
As it stands, du Toit will be hoping for some Rainbow Cup action with The Stormers – even if they do end up just playing their South African rivals. It remains to be seen if the former Super Rugby sides will be to face off against PRO14 opposition as the cup progresses, but we may see a condensed knock-out format, based in the UK, if the Covid situation in South Africa has not dramatically improved by June.
“The more game-time everyone can get, the better,” said du Toit. “Especially in South Africa, we haven’t played a lot and we haven’t got to play with the guys that are based abroad. When you play here, the games are all local derbies and a lot more physical. When you play abroad, the games are a lot faster and more open, and you have to think a bit more. So it’s a nice challenge for us.”
Montpellier had been linked, last year, with a lucrative move for Du Toit but his most likely destination after the Lions tour to South Africa is a season in Japan’s Top League.
After that, who knows? Were Munster able to move some other names on, the door could still be open for Du Toit in 2022. He may get that Guinness yet.
CHECK OUT THAT FULL INTERVIEW HERE: