Bismarck must hike standards

2014-11-26 14:44
Bismarck du Plessis (Gallo)

Cape Town – Saturday’s season-ending Test against Wales at the Millennium Stadium suddenly has special, urgent relevance to Bismarck du Plessis.

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 that reputation.

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 Meyer’s mind.

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 ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  bismarck du plessis  |  rugby

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