Cape Town — What was supposed to be a special homecoming for Jacques du Plessis at the Bulls has turned into a nightmare.
After six years at French club Montpellier, the long-haired forward — who can operate at No 4 lock and blindside flank — decided to head back to Pretoria to really make a fist of it at the Bulls after leaving Loftus Versfeld as a youngster.
But as he said in a recent interview on the Bulls YouTube channel, it just hasn’t worked out for him as he sustained a knee injury that kept him out for almost a year, and this season a broken hand has halted his progress.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was shell-shocked, 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,” the 29-year-old said.
“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 line-outs, lifting, gym — I think it’s stronger than it was before.”
Now he is back and hungrier than ever, and was immediately installed in the No 4 jersey by coach Jake White for Saturday’s United Rugby Championship showdown against the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld (5.05pm kick-off).
The Bulls have lacked a bit of physicality in recent matches, most notably in their last encounter against the Stormers.
They dominated the scrums on December 23 at Cape Town Stadium, but were pushed around a bit in the tight exchanges by John Dobson’s team.
So, Du Plessis is just the man the Bulls need to take the fight to the defending champions in a bid to win their first match in five meetings.
“I knew him as a young guy, and he was with me at Montpellier. He’s grown and is now older and married with two kids. But I am still looking for that little spark, and I am hoping that giving him this chance — after such a long time out of rugby through injury — that’s the little spark I need,” White said on Friday.
“If it ignites, it will have a massive effect on our pack, especially with guys like Elrigh (Louw) and Cyle Brink. That’s his job tomorrow: to be that spark and bundle of energy that wants to play rugby.
“Manie Libbok, Herschel Jantjies, Scarra Ntubeni, Joseph Dweba are all Springboks … It’s a good team, and the last time, that team killed the Sharks. Everyone thought the Sharks would give them a go, and it was one-sided.
“They are playing well, and what Dobson’s done well is to keep the core together. He’s changed hookers, but Dweba is there, and he’s kept the number eight, nine and 10, and 15. That’s generally what good teams do.
“They have mixed and matched, but made sure that the spine of the team stays strong. It’s worked for them, and I don’t want to take anything away from them.
“You can’t just give them the ball — those outside backs are good, and they can counter-attack. We’ve got to have a good plan. But there’s also altitude — if you kick a ball, it goes a little bit further than at sea level.”