Maple Ridge rugby standout Guiseppe du Toit grew up idolizing the rugby stars of his native South Africa, and dreamed of one day playing in the Rugby World Cup.
Initially, his dreams were dashed.
After playing a summer full of matches with the Canadian national team, working hard to get his spot on the team, du Toit was left off the squad headed to Japan for the World Cup. It was a tough blow.
“It was difficult to take that in, because you put so much into it,” he said.
He was back in Victoria, working on finishing his biology degree at UVic, and setting his alarm for the wee hours of the morning to watch the matches. Then on Sept. 27 when he got the call. There had been a pair of injuries, and du Toit was told to catch the next flight to Japan.
“My world just got flipped on its head,” he said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid.”
Du Toit was born in South Africa, but his family emigrated to Canada in 2002. To take the field against the Springboks made it all the sweeter. He got onto the field in Kobe and lined up against the sports heroes he has idolized. After the game, they swapped jerseys and talked.
“Some of the guys I remembered watching in 2007 (in the World Cup),” he sad. “It was pretty special.”
His father Peet is a physician in Maple Ridge and the national team doctor, and his mom Elizabeth was also there to share the experience.
“It was pretty special to have both of them there in the stands for the South Africa game.”
Du Toit came off the bench in the second half, and that was his only action of the tournament. He didn’t get to play in Canada’s match against three-time World Cup champion New Zealand.
Then Typhoon Hagibis wreaked havoc, caused flooding and landslides that resulted in the cancellation of the Canada/Namibia game.
His big moment on the field against the Bok was surrounded by many smaller, but still memorable ones. The 2019 Rugby World Cup is the ninth edition of the sport’s showcase event, held every four years, and the first ever to be hosted in Asia. But du Toit was impressed with how knowledgeable the fans in Japan were, and their love for the game. They came out in crowds of 2,000 or 3,000 just to watch Team Canada practices. He was recognized as a rugby player and stopped to take selfies with fans.
“I loved every bit of it,” he said of the experience. “Japan is such a cool country, and the people so welcoming. People stop you in the street – they are familiar with rugby players.”
Still just 24, he plans to once again don the Maple Leaf jersey for the next World Cup.
“I’ll do everything in my power.”
He is a centre with the Toronto Arrows Rugby Club – Canada’s first professional rugby union team that plays in Major League Rugby. The club says it is “providing emerging Canadian talent with enhanced and more frequent opportunities to hone their skills at an elite level.”
That appears to be true, because the Canadian national team rostered 12 Arrows at the Rugby World Cup.
For Canada to rise in the world rugby rankings, it needs more opportunities for Canadian players to get in elite competition. He said the MLR provides that, and the league is getting increasingly better, with high-profile rugby players joining teams – like former French captain Mathieu Bastareaud going to New York.
“The level of play is getting a lot more credible.”
His coach is working on his communication on the field, a new area of strength, and he focuses on “carrying hard with the ball,” and his tactical kicking game – which has been a strength in his game from a young age.
Du Toit will finish his biology degree, is in his last semester, and then return to Toronto and the Arrows.
His initial plan was to follow in his father’s footsteps and study medicine, but that has become Plan B. He is shooting for a rugby career that could take him to a professional club in New Zealand or South Africa, and then hopefully a Europe club.
“I’ll pursue the rugby dreams as long as possible.”
The Rugby World Cup championship game will be played on Saturday, Nov. 2.