Cape Town - Bulls forward Jacques du Plessis has been at the top on a number of occasions in his sporting career.
Did you know that he won a gold medal at the Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010? And guess in which sport: athletics.
Du Plessis was in Grade 9 at Hoërskool Ermelo at the time, and produced a magnificent throw of 63.94m in the discus event to clinch first place for Team South Africa.
For a young boy of his size, rugby was a natural sport to play, but his first love was athletics and the discus, though, and he was so good that he broke the school records of two future Springbok No 8s, Pierre Spies and Duane Vermeulen.
Success in rugby followed soon enough as Du Plessis – originally from Pongola in KwaZulu-Natal and later Ermelo in Mpumalanga – was in the Pumas squad as a lock at the 2011 SA Under-18 Week in Kimberley, where they beat a starstudded Western Province team – with Cheslin Kolbe at fullback, Tim Swiel at flyhalf, Sikhumbuzo Notshe as the captain and blindside flank, and Handre Pollard on the bench – 39-34.
That Pumas team also had Kwagga Smith and Werner Kok in the starting line-up, and Du Plessis was selected in the 2011 SA Schools squad and the 2013 SA U20 group.
He was snapped up by the Bulls after matric, and after a few years at Loftus, he moved to French club Montpellier for six years.
He earned over 100 caps as a lock and loose forward, and won Challenge Cup titles in 2016 (under Jake White) and 2021, while they were runners-up in the French Top 14 in 2018 – and won it last season, after Du Plessis went back to the Bulls in 2021.
So, he is someone who operates at a high level, which is why his injury-plagued return to Pretoria has been particularly frustrating.
Du Plessis had an ongoing Achilles problem that became so bad that he needed an operation in February 2022, and having slogged through a rehabilitation period of about 10 months, he enjoyed a superb comeback against Lyon last December – only to break his right hand and leave the field just after halftime.
“I sat down and questioned my existence a little bit! I just thought to myself: ‘My God, what am I doing wrong? What’s happening?’ And then the normal things you go through, like you’re dropping the union ... ” Du Plessis said in an interview on the Bulls YouTube channel.
“But it’s honestly like what can you do? It’s not my fault: I don’t want to be injured. I am working so hard, and people don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was shellshocked, and when I lied down immediately, I told the doc ‘My hand is broken’. After the game and the next day, I felt bad, but I gave it until the afternoon and then I said it’s over. I felt bad, but it’s behind me now and I will be positive and look forward – there’s always a reason.
“It’s flippen terrible timing! Come back and injured again, and I can just imagine what everybody is thinking, ‘This guy, what is he doing here? He is just coming for the money’. That’s what I thought, and that’s what a lot of people think. So, people start to question you.
“But it’s going good now. I am training really well, and we are pushing each other here. The hand is feeling great at lineouts, lifting, gym – I think it’s stronger than it was before.”
And now the 2.01m, 120kg giant, who can operate at No 4 and 7, is eyeing up the Stormers – the team he supported as a child – at Loftus in the United Rugby Championship on 18 February.
“I think next week, I’m right.
I am six weeks this week, and it’s really feeling awesome – I can’t complain,” Du Plessis said.
“My goal at the moment: I want to be constant. I want to be involved and just constantly be there. What happened now over the last three years: I played four games, out, three games, out. I want to be involved week-in, week-out, and that’s the only way you can make a difference.
“I want to be sure I am fit to be in the mix week-in, week-out.”