18-year-old Muller Du Plessis’ inclusion as the reserve player in the upcoming Hamilton 7s, following the injury blow of Ruhan Nel, speaks volumes of the Blitzboks current attitude to selection and their success by virtue of it.
Du Plessis is an exciting young outside back, having played two years of Craven Week and SA Schools and captaining a strong Paarl Gym side in 2017. He went immediately into the SA Sevens Academy after finishing school and has represented sides at age group level since 2011, being part of the SARU High Performance set up since 2015.
What Du Plessis’ career thus far and subsequent international selection is indicative of is the identification system in South Africa gone right, which unfortunately is more the exception than the norm. He’s followed a path engineered for success at professional level, yet it’s the backing in the international set up that will allow him to thrive and bolster the Blitzboks’ already impressive and well functioning unit.
Often in South Africa, even when players have been correctly identified and groomed, as Du Plessis has, coaching and administrative reluctance to select a player based on form somewhat stagnates the players’ development, only to the detriment ultimately of the international side.
This where South Africa more often than not gets it wrong while New Zealand seem to have it just right. New Zealand has a thorough youth identification system in place, yet they are also willing to take risks when it comes to the selection of these talented youths. However taking a risk does not mean throwing the player into the deep end. Often, a young debutant has already been taken on an All Black tour the previous year just to learn and soak up the environment. Thus when he makes his debut, he’s unfamiliar to the opponent and inexperienced himself, yet not uncomfortable in the professional set up.
Du Plessis’ inclusion as a touring reserve for the Blitzboks in Hamilton is New Zealand-like in the best way. World Breakthrough player of 2017, Rieko Ione, comes to mind for me, as he was picked and backed to play for the New Zealand 7s side at the age of 17 in 2015 and had immediate impact, being chosen as World Sevens player of the year later that year. His form since has only got better.
Of Du Plessis, coach Neil Powell had the following to say, “Muller can learn and even play when called upon. He only finished school last year and is highly rated, having played SA Schools and for the SA Rugby Sevens Academy in South America recently. He is very talented and has a bright future and I think he will become a very good addition to our squad. The sooner we expose him to this level of play, the better.”
While Powell’s Intention is for Du Plessis to learn, he is picking him and backing him to play if need be, which is a system and attitude that the rest of South African rugby can learn from when trying to build up the quality of depth the New Zealand sides possess.
We have the means for identification and grooming and we have a wealth of talent. It’s up to the coaches and administration to now follow the Blitzboks lead when it comes to selection.