Bismarck must grin, not growl

Bismarck du Plessis needs to remind himself why he chose rugby as a profession, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day newspaper.

It's sure to make him smile – and once the smile returns then so too will passion again replace irritation and what appears to be anger.

Du Plessis is the best hooker in the world. He has been since 2011 and it was unfortunate that, at the peak of his playing powers, he was not able to showcase his talent as the starting option in the World Cup.

Du Plessis loved rugby at school and excelled in his chosen sport. Few get to live out their passion in the guise of work. I am among those who write for a living and write primarily about sport. It’s a profession, yes, but it has always put a smile on my face. And it still does, despite it being what pays the bills.

Rugby is still a sport and the hard-working, skilled or semi-skilled, mostly do a job they ideally would love not to do. I can understand the wanna-be rugby professional who wasn’t good enough and is not holed up in an office earning his keep.

Du Plessis is in the minority of individuals who was good enough to turn his passion into a profession.

He has since 2011, when he was wronged by Bok coach Pieter de Villiers at the World Cup. De Villiers promised Du Plessis he would start the World Cup quarter-final and told him a few days before the team announcement he was the starting option; only to revert to John Smit as his captain and starting hooker.

Du Plessis had done his apprenticeship at the Sharks and the Boks in Smit’s shadow, and he was the consummate team man. But in 2011 the apprentice was the master of his position and didn’t get the ultimate reward.

Jake White, a year ago, made Du Plessis his captain. White felt him to be the Sharks' best player and believed the best player, the one whose position is never doubted, leads from the front.

White also wanted to instill in Du Plessis a recognition that would result in contentment and then hopefully the blissful expression of a man whose passion was matched by his absolute brilliance.

It didn’t quite work out and Du Plessis looked uncomfortable in the leadership role. He then played a secondary role at national level to Adriaan Strauss, and that only added to the frown and what always presented itself as a pained expression.

He hasn’t looked happy playing rugby for some time and for Du Plessis to rekindle the fury he has to find the fun in why he plays this game.

It’s a glorious game for those who are good enough to be international players and it’s a beautiful game for anyone who has been fortunate enough to experience the joys of rugby, regardless of the level.

Many will be mocking my observation that a smile on the dial of Du Plessis reflecting his passion and enjoyment that he gets paid to play when, as a youngster he would have paid to play if ever that opportunity was denied.

Du Plessis’ game has always been based on aggression, intensity and impact in the collision and at the breakdown. His power and strength won global praise, from opponents, coaches and storytellers of the game.

Now, too often in the last two seasons, is an ugliness and nastiness outside of the ethos of the game been associated with Du Plessis. He is better than that and his talent and credentials should make him above any such observation.

The challenge is his to right the wrongs because he is a senior Springbok and at this juncture of the season he is the captain of his franchise.

His kicking of an opponent can never be excused and his action has betrayed his brilliance. Du Plessis is no thug but what he did against the Chiefs was thuggish.

Great players, those legends of the game, don’t kick an opponent. He did and it has tarnished his standing.

Anyone, with hopes of a Springbok World Cup success, knows Du Plessis, at his legal best, is a must in the match 23. But Du Plessis, with pained expression, is a liability and a soft target for any opponent.

He failed his teammates against the Chiefs, when as the leader he is expected to inspire, but significantly he let himself down.

I want to see the best Bismarck playing for the Sharks and the Springboks. As one who has had the privilege of reporting and writing about this Bismarck, I’d urge him to crack a smile and again let his love for the game determine his approach.

He has, for the past two seasons, played as if the game is a grind when it should only ever be among the grandest of jobs.

No player should ever take himself or the game that seriously that he is able to justify the growl over the grin.

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Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images