The combination of the two towering lock forwards has quickly become a formidable part of the Stormers team.
According to the Stormers online magazine, they played a combined 546 minutes of rugby in the first four games of the Super Rugby season, during which they made 82 tackles, 30 passes, four offloads, 72 carries, turned the ball over four times, and beat five defenders.
They were particularly effective in the line-outs, securing their own throw 43 times and making the most line-out steals for a lock-pairing (10) in Super Rugby, for an average of over two line-out steals a game.
Etzebeth, at 2.04m tall and 117kg, cuts a particularly impressive figure and is a rare talent. The physical lock also possesses a deceptive turn of pace. He earned his first Springbok cap against England in June 2012, a mere three months after his Super Rugby debut.
He was nominated for SA Player of the Year three times, won consecutive SA Young Player of the Year awards in 2012 and 2013, and was nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year in 2013.
The 24-year-old Etzebeth has since claimed the No 4 Stormers jersey as his own. On the other hand, the No 5 jersey has been worn by many different players, but may just have found a long-term custodian in former Sharks lock Du Toit.
“When I first heard that Pieter-Steph was coming to the Stormers, I was a very excited man,” Etzebeth told the Stormers online magazine.
“I’ve always rated him as a player – and I’m not just saying that because he’s sitting next to me. He’s an exceptional talent, and I really enjoy playing with him.”
Du Toit, born and raised in the Western Cape, made his Super Rugby debut for the Sharks in the same year as Etzebeth, and made his Springbok debut in 2013.
Several injuries have stalled his otherwise steady rise through the ranks of South African rugby, but now Du Toit – and the rugby public – will be hoping his return to the Cape will bring stability to his career and the Stormers’ No 5 jumper.
“The coaching staff are trying to build a culture where players always want to improve their own skill level,” said Du Toit.
“So, personally, I’ve already grown quite a bit [since moving to the Stormers]. If you listen to the coaching staff here, then you will become a better rugby player.”
The lock pairing of Du Toit and Etzebeth, touted as the heirs apparent to Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, has so far lived up to expectation. Their stats are impressive.
“It’s just the system we have in place here at the Stormers,” said Du Toit. “If you have a good system in place, then it’s not just about two guys, it’s not just about me and Eben.
“For example, in the line-outs the supporters and lifters play an equally important role, so it’s also about them. It’s about the coaching team and the supporters around you.”
Etzebeth added: “Pieter-Steph has brought something new to the line-outs so it’s great having him here.
“[Forwards coach] Russell Winter is a very good coach so we are enjoying the new systems and [head coach] Robbie Fleck is giving us more freedom to express ourselves.”
Etzebeth and Du Toit also attribute their on-field success to the off-field friendship that has been forged between the pair.
“Our friendship off the field helps a lot,” admitted Etzebeth. “It’s really about trust because you can always trust a friend both on and off the field.
“If there’s a tackle that needs to be made, I can trust him to make it. Even when he has a bad game, I think he had a good one because I always back him.”
Du Toit added: “Rugby gives us an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. It definitely gave us a great opportunity to become friends.
“Because of that, on the field we back and trust each other – I think it’s a good example of friendship.”
African News Agency
Original source: Bond between Etzebeth, Du Toit soaring