GRANT BALL believes there should be a clear plan for Bismarck du Plessis before he plays for the Springboks again.
Du Plessis returned for the Sharks on Saturday after three months out with a neck injury, and understandably didn’t have as much impact as he would’ve liked. But that’s merely down to the high standards many expect from him and although the physical strength he possesses is freakish, it would’ve been expecting a super-human effort for him to immediately be up with the pace of the game after such a serious injury.
Du Plessis conceded a tighthead at one scrum, although he wasn’t helped by having two loose locks in Alistair Hargreaves and Ross Skeate on at that time, while the hooker wasn’t his usual self with ball in hand and gave away a couple of penalties at the breakdown with his overzealous approach. But that was to be expected. Those 16 minutes he had off the bench were all part of completing a rehabilitation programme and building up his confidence.
Now that Du Plessis is back playing, there shouldn’t be a rush to use him for the Boks until he’s close to resembling the form he displayed in the latter stages of the Super 14. Du Plessis joined up with the Boks on Tuesday and took part in training, and although it’s wise to keep players such as him, Fourie du Preez and Heinrich Brussow in the mix, Du Plessis shouldn’t come into the selection reckoning for the All Blacks Test. Rushing him back to that extent would be a risk not worth taking.
Although Du Plessis’ loose play and presence at the breakdowns would be a boon for a Bok side without a fetcher, he would be best served by the management if they have a clear plan regarding his return. The Sharks play the Leopards this Friday and although Craig Burden is in good form and is the province’s incumbent No 2, Du Plessis would benefit from a run off the bench.
With three hookers in the Bok squad, Du Plessis won’t be required for the Soccer City Test, which will be John Smit’s 100th, and Du Plessis would again be best utilised by playing for the Sharks against Western Province, which takes place on the same day.
Mapping out Du Plessis’ role in his return to the Boks should be directly linked to the plan, if there is one, for Smit. The Bok captain will lead the side in Johannesburg and Peter de Villiers has also placed his faith in him up until the World Cup, handing him a contract until then. De Villiers is under pressure to produce results and won’t want to release his captain to go on a conditioning programme for the final couple of Tri-Nations Tests against Australia, but that’s the way to go. A conditioning programme may not necessarily make Smit the best hooker in the country, but it would be the wisest step for him to take to regain his form.
De Villiers has also talked up the faith he has in Chiliboy Ralepelle, and if that really is the case, he has two Tests against Australia to give Ralepelle a start. If Du Plessis is back to his bruising best by that stage after three matches for the Sharks, then he’ll be an asset off the bench for the Boks.
Rushing him back unnecessarily won’t do the player or team any good.