Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - They are strong, generally popular characters of the international rugby landscape and that is never a bad thing ... but do brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis take interaction with referees a bit too far?As it happened: Lions v Sharks
The voices of the two Sharks front-rankers have been among the most consistently audible to mass audiences this season as far as spirited dialogue with Super Rugby officials is concerned.
Shrinks (and may I cheekily add, at the risk of generalisation, wives and girlfriends?) will tell you that communication is healthy.
But in rugby, with 30 players on the field almost all the time and sophisticated television-geared technology picking up much of what is said at close quarters, it is unrealistic to permit limitless chatter between participants and the various match officials.
The captain has a greater licence, of course, to make his feelings on decisions - or non-decisions - known, so the younger of the Du Plessis Springboks, Bismarck, can be excused for the odd bout of constructive dissent, if you like.
But he is also in his first season as a leader, and there have arguably been instances where even he has come desperately close to crossing the line for just being too strident or enduringly “lippy” in his objections as he tests the good humour of referees.
Against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday, however, tighthead prop Jannie was particularly animated (not for the first time in his lengthy career) in his interpretation of sanction against him.
He made his feelings of disbelief clear to particularly seasoned and respected ref Craig Joubert
after he was yellow-carded for a late shoulder barge on Lionel Mapoe.
The TV evidence looked damning enough ... but then even after the final whistle, the opinionated doctor and stalwart of the No 3 jersey was clearly heard on the microphone protesting to Joubert as everyone shook hands: “But I didn’t change my line.”
Try selling us another rusty Ford Cortina, Jannie!
Let’s not forget that a few short weeks ago, when the Sharks beat the Reds in Durban, the big fellow made headlines for his (again very publicly audible) exchange with another local referee, Lourens van der Merwe, over binding issues at scrum-time.
“Don’t come and lecture me,” Du Plessis told the official, to the incredulity of many listening (and perhaps even Van der Merwe himself, who might otherwise have taken immediate, penalising action?).
To his credit, he did apologise on the post-match Monday to the official for his outburst.
But a potentially dangerous pattern is developing, I believe, of the Du Plessis duo pushing the boundaries of reasonable discussion with referees.
Hardly helping is that both have “previous”, as they say in legal jargon, for personal ill-discipline, which could just aggravate matters.
One of the SuperSport commentators - I cannot recall whether it was former Bok captain Bob Skinstad
or lead voice Matthew Pearce - was spot-on at one point in saying words to the effect of: “We need to remember there are laws of rugby not necessarily compiled by the brothers Du Plessis.”
Yes, the Sharks continue to fly high but they have yet to undertake the trickiest part of the campaign - the overseas leg - where home-town crowd pressure and the likelihood of many of those games being policed by Australasian officials may see a less tolerant attitude to their protests.
I would not be at all surprised if Jake White
has a quiet word about the hazards attached to the pair becoming too routinely back-chatty with refs.
He may have done so already?*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing