Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Cardiff - When you listen to Bismarck du Plessis speak it's hard to miss the passion in his voice when he refers to the Springboks – almost to the extent that he gives the impression that playing for his country is a religious experience.
“This is a big tour for me because I sat out with injury during the Tri-Nations and I realised how much I missed it and how much playing for the Springboks means to me,” said Du Plessis.
“It really hurt not to be playing, and it hurts every time I miss out on playing for the Boks. When you don’t play for the Boks, you miss out on an opportunity that does not come around again. With the Sharks it is different. If you miss one match you get another chance because the games are so much more frequent.”
So given how put out he was at having to sit out because of a neck injury that momentarily threatened his career, the intensity which he has taken onto the field with him over the past few Saturdays, both since this tour started and in the build-up, should hardly be regarded as a surprise.
And it can also be taken as a warning by a Welsh front row that Du Plessis sees as a significant challenge to the Bok chances of victory in their second test of this tour at the Millennium Stadium here in Cardiff on Saturday.
The Welsh front row are in fact the front row that did duty against Du Plessis and the Boks for the British and Irish Lions in the second Test of last year’s series, which is an indication of the gravity of the challenge facing Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis plus the other member of the Bok front-row, Sharks teammate Beast Mtawarira.
The Lions gave the Boks some troubled moments in the first half of that Loftus test before they ran out of steam – and the memory of that should on its own serve as a reminder that a repeat of last year’s scrum annihilation of Ireland cannot just be assumed.
“They played against us for the Lions in the second Test, but I wouldn’t like to harp on too much about that match,” said Du Plessis.
“We have learned a lot from that series and we’ve changed a few things, so I think we will be up for this challenge. But it will be a big challenge. The Currie Cup is staying in Durban at the moment and we as the Sharks front-row had a great finish to the season, but this is a whole different level. This is international rugby and we know we are up against a very good scrum on Saturday.”
Du Plessis rates the Welsh scrum highly, but he stops short of listing them as the biggest threat that the Welsh will pose to the Boks at the Millennium Stadium.
“Their scrum is going well, but I wouldn’t say it is their main or only strength – to win the match they still have to score points, and they are not going to just score points through their front-row,” he said.
“Last week we saw them dominate Australia but they still did not score enough points to win the game.”
The Boks by contrast underlined the importance of forward dominance by using an outstanding forward effort as a platform for their win over Ireland in Dublin.