Those poor souls who have taken the time to suffer my Tweets and columns on the subject, will know full well that I am NO fan of switching a loosehead prop to tighthead.
This primarily because it is like asking a lock to play centre, such is the difference in skill requirements come scrum time, but also because it has tended to happen at the highest level, instead of taking the player through a process that needs to start at club level.
Think Coenie Oosthuizen, Trevor Nyakane, and Jacques van Rooyen. All more than competent loosehead props, asked to do a job at tighthead, and suffering the consequences – on a very public stage.
It’s actually unfair on the player.
So when fellow All Out Rugby columnist Craig Ray reported yesterday that Sharks coach Rob du Preez had told him that giant young prop Thomas du Toit will only be used at tighthead this year, my heart sank.
“Agh no, not another one …”
Having constantly outshone Bok stalwart Beast Mtawarira at loosehead last year – at both franchise and national level – I was so looking forward to seeing him and Steven Kitshoff own the Bok scrum this year. These two are right up there with the best in the world, perhaps even in the class of the one and only Os du Randt!
But having had a few quiet reflective sips of the crispy golden nectar, I have a feeling this may well turn out to be an inspired move.
For a few reasons:
- At 1.88m and 136kg, he has the perfect natural stature of a tighthead prop. In my playing days, I stood 1cm taller and 1kg lighter – although I am willing to bet that Du Toit’s fat calliper tests are a whole lot better than mine were! The greatest modern day tighthead, Carl Heyman, came in at 1.94m and around the 125kg mark.
- While ending up specialising as a loosehead, he has played tighthead prop at every stage of his career, including when on a three month stint with Munster in 2016.
- The move is not happening at Springbok level, instead via a planned process at franchise level, presumably under the guise of a specialist scrum coach.
- He was born to scrum, and loves it. Sure he loves a carry and a tackle, but he takes massive pride in his ability to do damage come scrum time. A tighthead cannot see scrumming as one of his jobs, it is THE job he is picked to do. I believe Du Toit understands this.
With the loosehead pipeline seriously clogged up via the likes of Beast, Nyakane, Ox Nche, Lizo Gqoboka, Charles Marais, JC Janse van Rensburg and Van Rooyen, and the tighthead pipeline fairly free flowing behind 2017 revelation Wilco Louw, a switch for the Bok focussed Du Toit also makes practical sense.
It will take hours and hours of hard graft – a perfect pet project for Bok scrum guru Peter de Villiers perhaps? But here’s to the Paarl Boys High schooled woolly mammoth providing some salve for the wound we have at tighthead prop.
IN CLOSING: Take a gander at this video I made with Oli Kebble. We take a look at the requirements of both the loosehead and tighthead, this with a view to what referees are penalising: