Bismarck: Mien of a grizzled old sea dog, but heart of gold

Bismarck du Plessis may have the mien of a grizzled old sea dog as he once again fulfils the role of a senior player for the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship, but closer inspection of the camp reveals the crucial contribution the 38-year-old is making to the younger players at the franchise.

“He’s worth his weight in gold,” Bulls coach Jake White says of the veteran hooker. “I had a gut feeling about Bismarck, I got a feeling that his presence would be important at the back end of games.

“I thought he was outstanding talking to the other players and controlling the scrums with the referee. 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. You couldn’t ask for more in an older player,” White says.

For Du Plessis himself, being at Loftus Versfeld has reignited his passion for the game.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am for this coming season. I get goosebumps thinking about it. I’ve had my time, and if I can now help the younger players around me, then I believe I’m doing my job at the Bulls,” Du Plessis said.

“I’m not competing with the youngsters. I’m here to help them every single day to get better. There are so many things in this Bulls team that remind me of my early career as a young player.

“Seeing young players develop and become Springboks is so rewarding. When Kurt-Lee Arendse became a Springbok, I phoned his mom and told her how proud I was of him, but also how proud I was of her.

“This is what it’s about. To get those young players like Canan Moodie and help them to play 100 Tests for the Springboks. The first time I saw Canan training I phoned JP Pietersen and said I’ve just seen a young player who reminds me of you,” Du Plessis said.

Daub in war paint

And the veteran of 79 Test caps does not need to daub himself in blue war paint and give rousing Braveheart speeches to lead these youngsters. Du Plessis merely leads by example.

“Even though he’s older than his team-mates, 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,” White says.

“I see so many similarities of my time when I was selected for the Sharks for the first time and this time now, and it makes me excited,” Du Plessis said. “What John Smit, Percy Montgomery and Johan Ackermann put into me when I was younger is what I want to be for these young players.

”It’s a very personal thing for me. I am going into this season to be as fit and strong as I can be, to be able to push those young players to be better. Since I came to play for the Bulls, I have rediscovered my love for rugby. I would like to give back, even if it is only a small contribution,” Du Plessis said.

Also read: Bulls putting in ‘hard yards now to reap rewards later,’ says Coetzee

With two outstanding hooker prospects in Johan Grobbelaar (24) and Jan-Hendrik Wessels (21) in the Bulls camp, it is little wonder coach White is smiling.

“It’s a wonderful position to be in as a coach,” said White. “No one is writing Bismarck 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 is a legend of South African rugby.”

Also read: Bulls secure services of veteran Bok Bismarck du Plessis