Stormers centre Dan du Plessis is happy to be back to full fitness after a couple of injury-marred seasons. DYLAN JACK reports.
Du Plessis made his breakthrough for the Stormers in 2016, starting three of their final five games of the season in the absence of Juan de Jongh and Johnny Kotze.
However, after carrying that momentum into the early parts of the 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby season, Du Plessis sustained a serious shoulder injury that kept him out of action for over a year.
The 23-year-old made his comeback for Western Province during last year’s Currie Cup campaign, but the competition at centre and a limited number of games restricted him to only four appearances, most of them as a substitute.
Now fully fit and having enjoyed his first complete pre-season in two years, Du Plessis is looking to make up for lost time.
‘I’m very happy with the opportunities I’ve had so far, and with the game time,’ Du Plessis told the media from Wellington. ‘I’m trying to make the best of it. We will keep pushing each other – Damian [de Allende], Ruhan [Nel] and the other centres – and keep trying to get the best out of each other for the rest of the season.
‘This is the first full pre-season I have managed to get through in the past four or five years. That has benefited me a lot so far. I can feel the difference it has made to my body and fitness.
‘With my struggles with injury, to get through a full pre-season and get that momentum going into the beginning of Super Rugby has helped a lot. I haven’t got a lot of game time due to injuries over the past two seasons, so I’m enjoying being out there and making the most of it.
‘My body feels in the best shape, especially after all the injuries I’ve been through. It’s in the best shape it has been in the past two years. In a way, I guess you can say it feels like a fresh start. At the moment I’m not concentrating on the past, I have got over that and am looking forward to what I can do this season.’
The son of former Springbok Michael and nephew of Carel, Du Plessis says that he wants to be his own player.
‘Sometimes he talks a bit too much about his own career and I tend to get upset with him and tell him to keep quiet after a while,’ Du Plessis says of his father, with a laugh. ‘He has obviously had a massive impact on my career. He gives me a lot of feedback, which is mostly positive. He doesn’t try to put any negativity on me. I have learned a lot from him.
‘But I am going on my own path and not following in his footsteps. I’m just trying to make my own path and own career.’
The Stormers will be looking to break a 10-match losing streak in New Zealand, having last won there in 2013.
Du Plessis says many of the Stormers’ youngsters will be motivated by the prospect of testing themselves against an All Blacks-laden Hurricanes outfit.
‘In terms of direct opposition, this is my toughest challenge. The Bulls were also a tough challenge for us, they have a very strong team and have been doing very well so far. We will be up against a number of All Blacks and world-class players such as Beauden Barrett and Ngani Laumape.
‘A lot of their backline players have All Blacks experience. We will embrace that as players. We also have a lot of youngsters who will look to use that opportunity against world-class players.’
Photo: Nic Bothma/EPA