Johannesburg – Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis says “even now it feels unreal” that he picked up two yellow cards and an automatic red, which reduced the Boks to 14 men for much of last weekend’s Rugby Championship defeat to the All Blacks in Auckland.
The 2007 World Cup winner was speaking for the first time since last Saturday’s refereeing debacle in New Zealand, when Frenchman Romain Poite incorrectly sin-binned Du Plessis, robbing the Boks of their best player up to that point, in the highly anticipated clash, which pitted the world’s best teams against each other.
The IRB on Sunday admitted Poite had got the decision to yellow card Du Plessis wrong for his tackle on All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter.
Du Plessis told The Star this week he had put the matter behind him. “I have no hard feelings and bear no grudges,” he said about Poite and the decision, which the rugby world said robbed viewers of the ultimate battle.
“The reaction of world rugby has been extensive and with so much emotions being part of the game and part of being a rugby spectator it is understandable. It needs to be mentioned though that I am in no position to criticise anyone.
“I do not expect an apology. I have no doubt that Mr Poite had no ill intentions towards the Springboks or me. It must have been a great occasion for him to have been awarded a Test match viewed as arguably the greatest clash in world rugby. The commentary in the media must have an immense impact on him. I feel sorry for him and I do not want him to be banished from the rugby fraternity or to be viewed as a ‘villain’. I bear no grudges against him and I have no doubt that he tried his best out there on the field.”
The Sharks man though admitted to being “surprised” at getting a yellow card for the tackle on Carter.
“Dan Carter is one of the greatest players that ever set foot on a rugby field. Part of being a world class 10 is to be elusive and not to be trapped with ball in hand.
“I will be lying if I do not admit that it is any forward’s dream to make a big hit on the opposition flyhalf. At the time I thought the tackle was legal in all aspects and I did not go and review it in detail as I know that it was not high, late or dangerous. I have been informed that I was offside, so from that perspective the tackle was not perfect. But I obviously did not think I was offside in the moment and in my own mind executed a legal tackle.”
The second yellow card, which led to his being sent from the field early in the second half, for a stiff-arm to the throat of Liam Messam was also, according to the Bok No2, a surprise. “Both those cards surprised me and even now it feels unreal that it happened.”
The Boks lost the game 29-15, but Du Plessis is adamant things would have turned out differently had his side had 15 men on the field to the end.
Heyneke Meyer’s team had won nine matches in a row and had come off a history-making victory over the Wallabies in Brisbane.
“I was convinced that we would beat the All Blacks (at Eden Park) for the first time since 1937. I believed that and I took the field with no possible result in my mind other than that the Springboks would beat the All Blacks.
“When I received the first yellow card my first reaction was to hope and pray that my sending off would not let the jersey and our country down.
“While I was off the All Blacks scored a try and converted it and the record will show that this happened while I was serving 10 minutes on the sideline for alleged foul play.
“After the second yellow card I realised that a virtually impossible task would await on the team. It is difficult enough to beat the All Blacks with 15 men on the pitch for a full 80 minutes. One yellow card in 80 minutes is short of a mortal blow. A red card is check mate.”
Du Plessis, even though he knows he was not at fault, still feels he let his team and country down.
“I still feel that I let the team down and objectively viewed I did. The disappointment is impossible to describe in words but there is hope that we can still win the Rugby Championship. If I am privileged enough to wear the jersey again in this competition that will be enough motivation to put the disappointment behind me.”
*See the Saturday Star tomorrow where Du Plessis talks more about last Saturday’s Test and what he would like to see happen in future when foul play is involved in Test match rugby.