Bismarck du Plessis (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The Springboks would almost certainly prefer a grinding, uncompromising, eyeball-to-eyeball scrap with the All Blacks if they are to register an unexpected victory in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final at Twickenham (17:00 SA time).
It is highly unlikely they will wish the game to develop – at least too quickly, anyway – into a toss-the-pill-around spectacle, which plays rather more obviously into New Zealand’s total-rugby hands.
Whichever of the eights achieves physical and possession-based domination will go a long way to determining the character and pace of the contest.
It will be a day where the Boks, frankly, intend their “enforcers” to rule the roost ... and they have one notable man particularly fitting that bill in each row of their pack.
Among the loose forwards it is Duane Vermeulen, at lock the now traditional go-to guy is Eben Etzebeth, whilst in the front row the designated toughie is Bismarck du Plessis.
I believe it is essential that all of the trio are able to begin the humungous fixture against the old enemy, which is why the Boks will be sweating over the readiness of the fiery hooker, nursing a swollen hand after it was accidentally trampled and cut by team-mate Francois Louw in the tight quarter-final triumph over Wales.
Du Plessis is one of several seasoned Springboks who, more often than not, truly get up for clashes with the world champions, the reasonably clear-cut bookies’ favourites on Saturday.
If the Boks are to edge this one, it will be achieved far more, you would think, by rumble than it will by rock ‘n roll. And that is precisely the landscape the 31-year-old farm boy, perhaps playing his last World Cup, most thrives on.
Though not everyone’s cup of tea – he can be a penalty liability, given just how closely he pushes the boundaries – a green light for Du Plessis in fitness terms on Wednesday, when the Bok team is named, ought to be a relief to the majority of their fans.
There is an extra incentive for the ex-Sharks stalwart to want to impose himself in a big way on this occasion: the emergence of his expected opposite number this weekend, Dane Coles.
Though not quite as blessed in terms of his physical proportions, where he concedes some 10kg and a bit of height too, Coles is no shrinking violet in the tight-loose, does his standard duties with great polish and is considered to have possibly the most nimble feet of all hookers on the major international circuit.
That last attribute goes some way to explaining why he visits the try-line with fairly pleasing regularity these days – after no dot-downs in his first 22 Test appearances, the 28-year-old (a slightly late developer as he made his All Black debut already aged 25) has managed five in his last 12, including one in each of his last two meetings with South Africa.
It may also not have escaped the attention of Du Plessis, for whom the last couple of seasons have seen some personal ups and downs for various reasons, that some pundits currently fancy Coles as the planet’s premier customer in the No 2 shirt.
London’s Daily Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk), for example, named Coles in its “team of the quarter-finals” on Monday, albeit making room for Springboks Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf and Schalk Burger at flank.
Writer Steve James noted (of Coles): “The best hooker in the world right now? Yes, you would have to say so. Does all the basics well and then produces flourishes around the field like the rip for a Julian Savea try (in the thrashing of France).”
That mantle was once deemed to be the preserve of the combative Du Plessis, so if ever he wanted to recapture the status, Saturday against the very Coles would be a great starting point.
The Boks are blessed with reassuring back-ups in the position, in the shape of Adriaan Strauss, industrious and mobile once more in his two separate bursts of activity against Wales, and Schalk Brits, a world-wise, potential game-breaker with his devilish stepping skills.
But they also need Du Plessis getting stuck in right from the outset against New Zealand, in a game which may well be influenced by early, morale-boosting physical ascendancy either way.
It is important that the big unit is declared medically ready to come under starter’s orders ...
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