Bismarck: A great journey ends
Durban - Unlike the scuttled German battleship he is named after, Bismarck du Plessis is intent on signing off his Sharks career with a massive performance against the Stormers on Saturday.
The Springbok hooker, his brother Jannie and Bok flank Willem Alberts are all playing their last match for the Sharks before heading off to France at the end of the season.
While all three have made massive contributions to the Durban outfit, Du Plessis has spent the most time in Durban of the three Bok stalwarts.
Having made his Sharks debut back in 2005, Du Plessis is the most capped Sharks player at Super Rugby level with 129 games under his belt. Considering John Smit played for much of that time, it is quite a feat that Du Plessis has racked up so many caps.
The old cliché “cowboys don’t cry” epitomises the burly Bok, but Du Plessis seemed sombre during an interview after yesterday’s practice session.
He is known for his hard-playing style, but there was an air of sadness about the hooker as he looked back fondly on his 11-year-stay at the Sharks.
“I read a scripture recently, which said ‘teach me to number my days’, and so yes, it’s a very emotional week,” Du Plessis said.
“It’s hopefully not my last time that I’ll be playing here, but for me it’s been a great journey. I arrived here when I was the seventh best hooker in the Free State, but I came down here when I got the call from Brian van Zyl and Kevin Putt, who gave me the opportunity to play rugby at the Sharks. I’m very grateful to them for sticking their heads out and giving me that opportunity.”
Biding his time behind the then Springbok captain John Smit was more of a blessing than a curse for Du Plessis. The 31-year-old said Smit was arguably the most influential person on his career.
“There have been two guys who had an immense influence on my career. One at the time when I arrived at the Sharks was John Smit; he was absolutely instrumental in everything I did.
“The other guy who gave me the best of everything and was like a father to me, was Johan Ackermann. It was just the way he conducted himself on and off the field even with the things he went through, the ups and downs,” Du Plessis said.
Smit kept Du Plessis as the second choice hooker at both the Sharks and the Springboks for a number of years when many pundits thought Du Plessis the better player. But being older and wiser, Du Plessis said Smit’s presence only helped him grow as a player.
“For me, it was always about backing the process and knowing where I stood, and that’s what’s sad about this chapter of my life. But like I said, John has always been great to me, when he was a player the way he helped me to develop my skills allowed me to become better than I was when I arrived here.”
Looking back on his decade at the coast, Du Plessis said he would miss being in Durban. “The most special memories first has been just to wake up every day in Durban, open the curtains and see the beautiful ocean. And also just to experience the amazing culture we have at the Sharks, it’s been the most special thing in my life.
“… I remember as a five- or six-year-old boy, Jannie and I walking along Windermere Road to come watch the club champs, and watching great players like Danie Gerber and Pote Human and all those great players who dominated the club scene at the time.
“I remember sitting at the top of the stands and wondering if I’d ever have the opportunity to play rugby. I don’t play for any accolades, I just play for my team-mates and the respect I have for the guys who play with me,” Du Plessis said.
Fans won’t want to miss seeing the all-Bok front row (the Du Plessis’s and Beast Mtawarira) pack down together for a final time at the Sharks tank this Saturday.
Kick-off is at 19:10.