Cape Town – Saturday’s season-ending Test against Wales at
the Millennium Stadium suddenly has special, urgent relevance to Bismarck du
The 30-year-old hooker, restored to the Springbok starting
line-up on Wednesday ahead of Adriaan Strauss after consecutive appearances off
the bench, needs to serve fresh notice to coach Heyneke Meyer and others that
he warrants starting World Cup year in 2015 still regarded as main man in the
No 2 jersey.
Du Plessis is overdue, after a surprisingly moderate 2014 by
his lofty standards, for a performance that combines his famous combative,
powerful aggression and industry with accuracy in his core duties – something
that has just gone missing a bit, especially in lineout-throwing terms – and
better resistance to penalties at the breakdown where he is being pinged probably
more than management and Bok observers would like.
The Sharks captain’s halo has simultaneously slipped a bit
from his previously oft-regarded status as world’s best player in his berth; a
thunderous, yet constructive showing in Cardiff would go some way to rebuilding
What Du Plessis brings to the party at his belligerent best
has been trumpeted many times on this website and also by this writer, but at
the same time there can be no denying his latest international season has been
surprisingly gremlin-filled and, as a result, seen him cut back to arguably a
50-50 situation with Strauss – a yeoman, honest “efficiencies” hooker -- in
How else do you explain the fact that Strauss, the former
Cheetahs skipper who is now Bulls-bound for the new year, has begun five of the
last seven Tests that have featured both men’s names on the squad sheet?
That seems more than mere “rotation”; it appears to indicate
the extent to which the blond competitor has clawed his way increasingly into
favour with the coach as 2014 has progressed.
So as Du Plessis earns the nod for what will be his 10th
personal cap against Wales and 70th overall since 2007, there is
pressure on him to genuinely get his A-game back.
He will be without his injured older brother Jannie in the
front row on this occasion – it is often said that the Du Plessis siblings hunt
most purposefully as a pair – but at least has the knowledge that long-time
Sharks colleague Tendai Mtawarira also returns to the starting XV after a week
off completely against Italy in Padova, whilst Saturday’s tighthead Coenie
Oosthuizen is hardly a stranger to him.
More important, perhaps, is that Du Plessis restore his
telepathy with Victor Matfield and company at lineout time after looking out of
sync again – though it is naive and unjust to always blame the hooker -- in a
relatively disappointing 29 minutes off the bench against the Italians.
It is difficult to believe that Du Plessis enjoys being a
substitute -- even if the no-fuss, fine-value Strauss might protest the same
thing -- because he is always one of the likeliest, hard-nosed Bok forwards to
make his presence felt on the opposition as quickly as possible and then to
stay in their faces.
Strauss has traditionally been the one more used to
operating off the “splinters”, as evidenced by the fact that by an increasingly
narrow margin the majority of his current caps – 22 of a total of 43 – have
come in that capacity, whereas Du Plessis has only been a sub in 29 of his 69
appearances to this point.
There is also a case for saying Strauss might well have many
further curtailed, “No 16” contributions to his name had he not made 13 starts
on the trot between late August 2012 and late August 2013 – coincidentally
beginning and ending against Argentina in Mendoza – while Du Plessis, then more
solidly nailed down as first choice, underwent the lengthy rehab process from a
serious knee ligament injury.
Du Plessis is back in his favoured No 2 shirt this weekend.
An off-colour showing is almost certainly not an option if he wishes to more
consistently hog it again ...
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