The suspension of Bismarck du Plessis will hamper the Sharks’ momentum at what is a crucial juncture of their season, writes JON CARDINELLI.
One moment of madness in the recent game against the Chiefs will influence how the Sharks fare over the next few weeks, and possibly where they finish on the Vodacom Super Rugby log. This past Saturday, Du Plessis was tackled by Michael Leitch, and reacted by kicking the Chiefs No 8 in the head.
It was a thoughtless, reckless, and unacceptable act that rightly earned the Sharks skipper a red card, and subsequently a four-week ban. Du Plessis has come out and apologised for a display of aggression that has no place on the rugby field. The 70-Test Springbok has promised to use the time off to reflect on his actions and ensure it never happens again.
In the space of a few days, a lot has been said and written about the player’s character. Perhaps the words spoken by Sanzar duty judicial officer Adam Casselden at the disciplinary hearing put things into perspective. Casselden noted that but for one incident in 2008, and the most recent one at Kings Park, Du Plessis has a good disciplinary record. This is the primary reason why Du Plessis is sitting out for four weeks instead of eight.
While the act deserves to be condemned, the player does not. Du Plessis has forged a reputation as a hard and uncompromising player. He has added terrific value to the Sharks and Boks over the years, and has rarely overstepped the mark.
And yet, this one incident could hurt the Sharks’ present campaign. Du Plessis has led from the front since he was awarded the captaincy in early 2014. The Sharks have been a more potent force when he has played, and more susceptible when he's been absent.
The scrum is a weapon when Du Plessis is at the centre of the set piece. The lineout functions smoothly and the Sharks’ breakdown effort is lifted thanks to his ball-stealing expertise.
And don’t forget the punishment he is able to inflict when he lines up an opponent on defence. Much will be made about the recent incident involving Leitch, but there are countless examples of Du Plessis affecting a legal, momentum-shifting tackle on an opponent.
Kyle Cooper has been a valuable member of the Sharks squad for some time, but cannot boast the same star quality of Du Plessis. The Sharks recently lost Pieter-Steph du Toit to a serious injury, but it’s the suspension of Du Plessis that will hurt their campaign the most.
Du Plessis will miss the matches against the Force, Crusaders, Lions and Bulls. All four of those clashes will demand an especially powerful and accurate showing up front.
The Force are competitive at the breakdowns, the Crusaders' pack is starting to fire, and the Lions’ scrum is a strength. The game against the Bulls will also demand a lift in the pack's performance.
The Sharks conceded two red cards this past Saturday and still managed to beat the Chiefs. They will take heart from that 13-man showing, and senior players like Pat Lambie, who stood in for Du Plessis as captain, deserve credit. However, should the Sharks lose Lambie, who is currently battling a groin injury, then they will be seriously short on leaders.
It should become painfully apparent over the next four weeks just how important Du Plessis is to the Sharks’ cause. That one transgression against the Chiefs and the subsequent suspension may prove costly in the context of their season.
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