Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – There’s a certain cruelty to the fact that
rookie flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis gave the Stormers some invigorating thrust
in a comfortable 46-19 triumph over the Sunwolves on the very day Kurt Coleman
had surgery to mend a dreaded “ACL” in the knee.
The luckless Coleman, who had just begun to look settled and
assured in the No 10 jersey for himself before his season-ending training
mishap, tweeted twice (@kurtcoleman10) on Friday about his operation.
First he said: “All prepped and ready for surgery! Thank you
for all the kind wishes.”
Then some eight hours later, accompanied by the obligatory
thumbs-up picture from a hospital bed: “Sore and tired but the operation was a
success. Now for lots of rest and recovery. Thanks for all the love.”
The latter mini-missive at least contained some silver
linings for supporters in a few weeks in which the Stormers lost both their
intended 2016 senior pivots – the other Robert du Preez – to long-term
injuries, although Du Preez has a chance of returning to action should they
make the playoffs phase, a massively increasing likelihood.
So there was dual reason for everyone at Newlands on Friday
night to train eyes extremely closely and anxiously on the maiden start for the
21-year-old Du Plessis: not just to see whether he looks like cutting the
mustard at Vodacom Super Rugby level for the next few weeks, but for traces of
the legendary “Du Plessis genes” at the famous old ground.
Well, we probably got more than just traces of the
all-Springbok and conspicuous glory-era Western Province firm of Carel, his
father, and uncles Michael and Willie: it was more of a firm stamp, really.
In short, the left-footed playmaker was obviously,
understandably raw … but riveting in rather stronger measure.
It only took a few minutes for connoisseurs to realise a key
attribute: he is a quite natural “footballer”, even if that word may always
seem a little baffling to devotees of a game played with an oval,
Speaking of strange bounce, Du Plessis, right on full time,
provided a fitting cherry on top of a loose but also pleasingly fast and
free-spirited performance from the home franchise – they dotted seven tries to
three – by dribbling the ball onward a few times ahead of a cool gather-up for
the closing score.
Earlier in the game, the mild Pat Lambie lookalike (it would
be a closer resemblance if he were clean-shaven) was directly responsible for
teeing up two other tries courtesy of crisp, classy final passes to
respectively Kobus van Wyk and the night’s standout loose forward dynamo,
The speed, weighting and vision of his off-loading probably
amounted to the most satisfying string to his bow against the extremely dapper but
outgunned Japanese side, and no less a figure than SuperSport pundit and former
Bok No 10 general Naas Botha noted enthusiastically: “He set up a number of
players with excellent passes.”
if there were down sides they included a so-so record off
the tee – five out of nine – and moments of defensive confusion as he gradually
got to grips with the game at a level largely still foreign to him.
But confusion doesn’t mean lack of conviction; there were
also moments when he put his sturdy enough frame to good use as a stopping
device and Nick Mallett was able to praise his “good physicality … he’s clearly
not scared to tackle.”
Du Plessis also produced some clever, cheeky dinks and his
kick-offs were more often than not on the button, allowing for fierce competing
from advancing Stormers forwards in those situations.
He also changed the direction of play in a jiffy at times
with much of the instinct and finesse that marked his swerving, gracefully
stepping father and more single-minded, short-fused and sometimes wonderfully
maverick uncle Michael.
Expect the Stormers to be well less cavalier on attack when
they tackle the Lions in Johannesburg next week, a game where the young pivot’s
composure, option-taking and tactical kicking will be more rigorously tested –
he may also have to prove that he can land tricky place-kicks under greater
Yet this was a hugely heartening baptism for Du Plessis,
given the hasty-promotion circumstances for him, and the type of playmaker he
is gives the Stormers something of a genuine flair element at ten that has
seldom been prevalent in their Super Rugby history, when you put your mind to
Their No 10s over the years have often been less subtle men
prepared to take the ball close to the enemy traffic, like Braam van Straaten
and Peter Grant, or others whose main strength lay in place- and tactical
kicking accuracy – Louis Koen and much more recently the diminutive Demetri
Catrakilis generally fell into that category.
It will be a while yet, and several altogether more taxing
fixtures, before we can make a definitive judgement, but Jean-Luc du Plessis
already offers up suggestions of something tantalisingly different.
Could he be the missing link that properly sparks the
Stormers’ sought-after renaissance as “Province rugby” entertainers?
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing