Bismarck content to burn off the bench

Bismarck du Plessis admits to being frustrated with life as an impact player but is determined to excel in the role for the greater cause.

Du Plessis has been the central focus of a raging debate around the continued selection of Springboks captain John Smit. Du Plessis’ form when deployed as a second half substitute has been sublime. This has fuelled the fire of his advocates who argue that form should be the primary criteria for selection, not the intricate explanations coach Peter de Villiers has alluded to in justifying his retention of Smit.

Du Plessis is always careful not to disrespect the tutor he has so obviously surpassed in prowess, and barring the public display of frustration at being replaced in Port Elizabeth against the All Blacks, he has been an unfailingly diligent deputy. He conceded that his burning ambition is to be a starter but is also acutely aware of importance of maintaining a positive attitude and maximising his contribution, however brief it may be.

‘I don’t want to be seen as an impact player, I want to be seen as a [starting] hooker,’ Du Plessis said. ‘I’d like to start but at the moment that isn’t happening, so it is important for me to stay positive. You want to do your part but it isn’t nice to be on the bench. If any player tells you that he is lying. But Peter asked me to do a specific job off the bench for the first two games and that’s what I attempted to do (Du Plessis was omitted from the match 22 to face Namibia).’

Du Plessis has elicited praise from the global rugby fraternity, the most notable of which came from iconic All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick, who called him the world’s best hooker and marvelled at his skill set. Asked if he had paid any mind to this widespread adulation, Du Plessis said flatly: ‘The only media I read is the Weekblad and Farmers Weekly, so if what they said isn’t in there I won’t see it.’

One of the defining characteristics of the 2007 World Cup winning side was the reserve players’ refusal to let dejection set in (or at least display it publically) and poison the collective. Francois Hougaard is another who could justifiably feel aggrieved at not being a run-on starter as a wing, but he chooses to adopt the attitude of selflessness.

‘I don’t see the point in having a bad attitude about it because it will catch on,’ Hougaard said. ‘If I’m looking miserable there’ll be a negative vibe in the rest of the side. I want to start, doing that at scrumhalf is unlikely with Fourie du Preez there so wing is more likely. But we have world class wings, so my immediate focus is on making a difference and lifting the boys everytime I get on.’

The Springboks are expected to easily negotiate Namibia’s challenge on Thursday in Auckland, but Du Plessis stressed that their geographical neighbours were no pushovers.

‘I thought they played well in the first couple of matches. They aren’t the [weak] team they were in 2007 (the Boks hammered them at Newlands preceding the World Cup). Jacques Burger is playing well and the scrumhalf [Eugene] Jantjies has impressed me. As a team they keep the ball well. We’re treating this as any other match that we’re desperate to win.’

The Springboks are expected to finish top of their pool and in so doing set up an arduous path to a title defence that will likely see them play Australia and New Zealand in successive weekends. Hougaard maintained that their focus lies entirely on Namibia, but wasn’t daunted by the prospect of facing their southern hemisphere rivals.

‘I don’t like to look too far ahead but we’ll have to beat the best teams in the world to get a chance of contesting the final. That’s the expectation you come here with.’

By Ryan Vrede, in Taupo