Bismarck ready to set sail for twilight cruise
Bismarck du Plessis will steam into the 2022-23 Vodacom United Rugby Championship as a grizzled sea dog determined to cut through the biggest swells one last time. The league, into its second season, is an international breeding ground for youngsters and any old dog who can still mix it with the next generation. The DHL Stormers’ Deon Fourie is testimony of this, having returned to South Africa in 2021, and his brilliance for the Cape-based franchise was rewarded with a Springbok Test debut at 35 years old. Don’t dismiss Du Plessis this season. Schalk Brits went to the 2019 World Cup as a 38-year-old in a crucial role as mentor and player. “He’s worth his weight in gold,” Bulls coach Jake White said of the veteran hooker. It was White who gave Du Plessis the first of his 79 Test caps and their careers have dovetailed since – at the Cell C Sharks in 2013-14, in Montpellier between 2015 and 2017 and again reunited when the hard man jumped at the opportunity to swap the south of France for Pretoria in 2021. “Since I came to play for the Bulls, I have rediscovered my love for rugby,” Du Plessis said in an interview this week. “It’s probably because it reminds me of when I started at the Sharks – when I was a young player there, guys like Johan Ackermann and Percy Montgomery had a big influence on my career. I would like to give back, even if it is only a small contribution.” Du Plessis made a huge contribution to the Bulls cause last season. Though he started just four times in 13 appearances, he was inspirational to a crop of aspirational forwards. “I had a gut feeling about Bismarck,” White said of Du Plessis’ role in closing out a shock 27-26 victory over Leinster in last season’s Dublin semi-final. “I got a feeling that his presence [would be important] at the back end of the game – talking to the other players, controlling the scrums with the referee – and I thought he was outstanding.” The Bulls have two outstanding hooker prospects in Johannes Grobbelaar (24) and Jan-Hendrik Wessels (21). Du Plessis’ body of work is a portfolio of brute force and physicality, but at this point in his career the old dog will be tested in how he responds to the growing challenge from young guns who believe they’re bulletproof, just as he did when he made his Bok debut in 2007. “I think this will be a big challenge for Bismarck,” said White. “But I’ve known him since he was 18 and I’ve coached him for South Africa, as the captain at the Sharks, in the Top 14 and now at the Bulls. “In his life, Bismarck has passed every test with flying colours. He got straight As in school, played first-team water polo and went to three World Cups. He’s the real deal. “Can he throw better than most hookers? Yes. Does he still dominate in the scrum? Yes. Does he have an aura that people respect on the field? Yes. “Even though he’s older than his teammates, he is still among the top three or four players in our fitness tests. Like Morne Steyn, he’s a real professional and a role model – you couldn’t ask for more in an older player.” Though Grobbelaar and Wessels are likely to lead the hit when the Bulls scrum down in their second campaign, Du Plessis has been around long enough to know that sport has a habit of crumpling up plans, and White has seen enough of Du Plessis to know the Bulls have got the best insurance policy in the business. “It’s a wonderful position to be in as a coach,” said White. “No one is writing him off. In his career, he’s passed all the physical challenges and still does, and he’s never backed down from an emotional challenge. That’s why he has 79 Test caps and is a legend of South African rugby.” Photo: Craig Watson/INPHO/Shutterstock/BackpagePix The post Bismarck ready to set sail for twilight cruise appeared first on SA Rugby magazine.