Business Day

Bismarck set to mentor young Bulls

My wish is to do something for these youngsters

- Mahlatse Mphahlele

Springbok legend and World Cup-winning hooker Bismarck du Plessis aims to impart his vast knowledge of the game to younger Bulls players embarking on a new era in the United Rugby Championsh­ip (URC).

Coach Jake White recently recruited the 37-year-old 2007 World Cup winner, who played 79 Tests for the Boks, after a successful six-year stint at French club Montpellie­r.

Du Plessis is part of the 37man Bulls squad doing duty on the first leg of their URC tour in Europe starting with a clash against Leinster on Saturday in Dublin before moving to Wales and Scotland. The Bulls also play Connacht in Cardiff and Edinburgh. Du Plessis is expected to play a crucial leadership role on their four-week European tour.

“You remember how you were treated as a youngster,” he said from the team’s Dublin hotel. “My biggest wish is that I can be something for these young players that other players were to me at that age, [that] a player like Johan Ackermann was for me.

“I was 20 and he was 38 and I used to drive into training [for the Sharks] and he would be there already warming up.

“He stayed next to me in Durban in the same flats and he was a big part of my developmen­t as a player, and gave me a lot of wisdom. He went through a lot of ups and downs in his career and he gave me a lot of good advice that I took to heart. He was very good to me. This is a young team. I can already see from the few practices I’ve had with them that there are players here who have great careers going forward. I think I’d tell those youngsters that you must never forget why you started playing rugby.

“Another thing is for them to understand sacrifice. I had a coach who always told us that whenever you say ‘yes’ to one thing you say ‘no’ to something else. With every ‘yes’ comes a consequenc­e, so make sure the decisions you make are more often right than wrong.”

Du Plessis said he was enjoying downtime on his farm when White offered him the opportunit­y to join the Bulls. “It still feels a little bit unreal because in my head I’d said goodbye to rugby.

“But when Jake phoned me and I was sitting on the tractor on my farm, what he said awakened something in me again.” Before he took up this challenge, Du Plessis needed advice from a few players who played profession­al rugby well into their late 30s. “I spoke to a lot of players. Victor Matfield gave me great advice, so did Johann Muller. Stefan Terblanche really changed my mind in terms of what he said to me. Some of the players I spoke to said they were happy to retire because their bodies couldn’t take it any more.

“It was obviously a difficult decision for me because I gave my heart and soul to the Sharks. But the opportunit­y was with the Bulls. The way Jake spoke to me and what he explained to me helped me make that decision.

“My family also played a big role by giving me the support to do something like this. For most of my life rugby always dictated what I did.

“It was quite nice to be able to ask them how they feel and how they see it. They supported me in this. It’s a new challenge and a great opportunit­y to be able to do what I love.”

The Bulls have shown their United Rugby Championsh­ip (URC) intentions in high-intensity training sessions as they prepare to open their campaign against Irish powerhouse­s Leinster at Lansdowne Road in Dublin on Saturday.

Jake White’s men face a baptism of fire against four-time European Champions Cup winners Leinster in the opening round.

But the 22-year-old David Kriel said the Bulls are bristling with confidence before their keenly awaited clash.

The giants of rugby from Pretoria are ready for what’s in store for them from SA rugby’s new venture in the northern hemisphere.

“We are Currie Cup champions,” said fullback Kriel. “We own it, and we know we’re a championsh­ip side. We’re ready for what’s coming.”

It’s a mouth-watering kickoff to this new competitio­n as the Bulls meet a team that has dominated European rugby.

Kriel said the Bulls are a winning combinatio­n built in SA’s competitiv­e domestic rugby environmen­t and it won’t be easy for any side to break them down.

“We’ve been playing consistent­ly good rugby at home, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t gel on Saturday, regardless of who the opposition is,” he said.

The Pretoria outfit, though, still have the memory of their humbling defeat against Benetton in June’s Rainbow Cup final in Italy.

“This is another opportunit­y to build on what we learnt against Benetton,” Kriel said. “Everybody saw that game and it wasn’t our best performanc­e.

“We didn’t play like the championsh­ip side we are. But we took that as a stepping stone for growth in our game plan and also as a team.

“The United Rugby Championsh­ip will be challengin­g, but that can only be good for our squad and the rugby we’re playing.”

 ?? Berry/Getty Images ?? Wealth of experience: Bismarck du Plessis wants to help the young players in the Bulls squad./John
Berry/Getty Images Wealth of experience: Bismarck du Plessis wants to help the young players in the Bulls squad./John
 ?? ?? David Kriel
David Kriel

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