Bismarck’s leading the way

A disciplined Bismarck du Plessis should thrive as Sharks captain, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

When announcing the appointment of Bismarck du Plessis as the Sharks’ new captain, director of rugby Jake White made it clear it was not a way of bringing the hooker into line. However, as many on social media were quick to point out, a team cannot afford to be without its captain for 10 minutes because of a yellow card (or longer because of a red), so perhaps the additional responsibility will make Du Plessis think twice before doing something stupid.

The 29-year-old actually has a good career disciplinary record, considering he shouldn’t have been yellow-carded for that tackle on Dan Carter in Auckland last year. But he did have a moment of madness in the Currie Cup semi-final against the Cheetahs that should have resulted in a ban. After an off-the-ball scuffle with Lappies Labuschagne, Du Plessis got up and stamped on the flanker’s chest with his left foot, for which he was given a yellow card (it should have been red). In a diabolical decision, advocate André Oosthuizen subsequently ruled that the stamp had been ‘accidental’ and the player escaped any further punishment.

Du Plessis will know he cannot afford to lose his head like that when he is leading the team and hopefully he won’t, because if he can maintain his discipline, he could become an excellent Sharks captain.

Why is his appointment a good one? He is the best hooker in the world so, barring a dramatic loss of form, his place in the Sharks’ starting XV is a given. And, as White pointed out, Du Plessis couldn’t ask for a better mentor than CEO John Smit, who has been there and done that as far as captaincy and playing hooker is concerned. White also believes the captaincy and change of environment at the Sharks will help to ‘upskill Bismarck in terms of the things he is weak at’ and make him an even better player.

Keegan Daniel’s supporters were upset to see him lose the Sharks captaincy after lifting the Currie Cup just a few months ago, but you can’t blame White for wanting to enter a new era with a new captain, and Daniel may not even be a first-choice selection for the Sharks this season.

Meanwhile, there was also some debate surrounding the Stormers’ decision to retain Jean de Villiers as captain, with some suggesting it would have been better for the Bok skipper to take a break from the role at franchise level. De Villiers, though, insists he is still enjoying it, and if that is the case, then why not let him continue and Schalk Burger focus on his game?

Burger, who has been named Stormers vice-captain, only returned from an 18-month lay-off last September. Yes, he started for the Barbarians and played well in the festival game, but Super Rugby is a different beast and will determine whether he’s still got what it takes to play for the Boks. The captaincy would have been an unnecessary distraction for him.

– This column first appeared in the March 2014 issue of SA Rugby magazine

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Simon Borchardt