Rugby Championship

‘Fear factor’ Bismarck needed

2014-09-09 14:11
Bismarck du Plessis (Gallo)
Cape Town - Their Castle Rugby Championship 2014 hopes having taken a stinging blow with that controversial, late loss to Australia, South Africa need to find an A-game against formidable New Zealand in Wellington on Saturday ... and to have the best chance they must employ every A-grade player they can muster.

Bismarck du Plessis is one such character, his pedigree hardly disputed anywhere in the rugby world, and with others like Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie currently unavailable in berths where the Springbok are battling, it makes little sense to muzzle this particular pit-bull to a presence among the substitutes again.

Plenty of South African judges and not considerably fewer neutrals still consider the muscular Sharks combatant the best hooker on the planet ... even if in recent weeks a certain, near-inevitable weariness had crept into his play after over-exposure to the first-class landscape this year.

We all know that Du Plessis was well off his normally unerring best in both, awkward tussles with Argentina and they probably contributed to his rare curtailment to the bench against the Wallabies in Perth.

I say “contributed” because Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has rotated the enviable, high-calibre duo of No 2s at his disposal - Adriaan Strauss the other - before, and had already indicated that the policy would be repeated in this year’s tournament.

For instance, in one of the two clashes with Australia in last season’s Championship, Meyer gave the then Cheetahs captain and now Bulls-bound Strauss a start at Newlands ... but significantly he also fielded Du Plessis as start-out hooker each time against the Boks’ fiercest foes of them all, the All Blacks.

It would be a surprise, frankly, if that policy has changed in 2014: I fully expect the traditional first-choice to be reinstated for the contest in the Cake Tin, and not least because he has always before in Meyer’s tenure been the favoured pick in the position against the New Zealanders when fit.

Strauss sports five appearances against the current world champions, though three of those are as a reserve and his only two starts, in 2012, can be explained primarily because the senior hooker had torn knee ligaments in a tourney-opener against the Pumas at Newlands.

The blond marauder was typically busy and often constructive - not to mention being accurate at his key lineout throw-in trade - for the 61 minutes he was on the field in Perth against the Wallabies, a game the visitors looked so much likelier to win until fateful events involving officialdom and the Boks’ own lack of necessary composure in the dying minutes.

You so often get those admirable characteristics from the 28-year-old, a great squad man into the bargain.

But he also doesn’t quite match up to the 63-cap Du Plessis for sheer, priceless aura, if you like, on red-letter occasions such as the one looming on Saturday.

Deep down - though often more publicly too - New Zealanders respect and fear the powerful and bloody-minded qualities the Battleship Bismarck brings to the Test-match party.

Like so many others in green and gold, his most urgent and passionate performances tend to come against the All Blacks, even if all too often these days in eventual defeat.

But if the underdog Boks are to really get into All Black faces in expected rainy conditions, Du Plessis is precisely the sort of staffer who must help lead the assault, even as he eternally runs the risk of nearing or crossing the boundaries of legality.

There are additional reasons at this point to justify Du Plessis returning to his post among the starting XV, a pretty obvious one being the sense of injustice that ought to envelop him all over again after his infamous, erroneous red-carding by Romain Poite in the 41st minute of last year’s corresponding away clash at Eden Park.

The 30-year-old from Bethlehem had been a near-towering personal presence ahead of the costly banishment, his contribution including a try as the Boks were within seven points of the home outfit and fighting hard when the flashpoint occurred.

He may also wish only to re-emphasise his rights to top spot in the SA pecking order at hooker, after being limited to that cameo role in Perth.

Some cameo it was too ... let’s face it, if the Boks had earned the victory that had flickered so promisingly for pretty substantial passages, they would have been strongly indebted to that amazing ruck pilfer he engineered in the 77h minute when the Aussies were pressing with all their might.

It is history now that from the resultant penalty that should have taken all the sting from Wallaby last-ditch ambitions, Morne Steyn failed to find touch and a counter-thrust netted the home side the fruits they barely deserved.

That turbo-charged turnover capability he possesses - generated by a cocktail of iron resolve and the brute strength in his upper arms and shoulders - is just one of the variety of reasons why BW du Plessis must wear No 2 in Wellington.

The Boks need all the X-factor they can get.

We know Du Plessis, when suitably on song, has it.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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