Bismarck not off the hook yet

2013-10-27 14:01

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Bismarck du Plessis’ escape from sanction has yet again highlighted the inconsistency of rugby’s citing system, writes Khanyiso Tshwaku

Is Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis an asset or a liability?

This is the question that has to be asked after the combative Sharks hooker again became embroiled in an incident of questionable discipline.

This time, he was yellow-carded, then cited, for stamping on Free State Cheetahs flank Lappies Labuschagne in his team’s Currie Cup semifinal.

There is no doubt that Du Plessis is the best hooker in world rugby. But perhaps the best way to gauge his influence on a game is when he is off the field.

One such example was the unnecessary yellow card for a legal tackle on All Black fly half Dan Carter in Auckland. This changed the complexion of the first Rugby Championship test between South Africa and New Zealand at Eden Park.

When he was yellow-carded again – which amounted to a red card – for a dangerous charge into Liam Messam, the Boks were down to 14 men. It was noticeable how the fight went out of the Springboks’ effort.

Du Plessis received much sympathy and even support from the International Rugby Board, which sanctioned referee Romain Poite for making an error.

Then came his stamping indiscretion against Labuschagne, which should have warranted a suspension for yesterday’s final.

The Bok hardman was lucky to have been able to take to the field, something with which former Springbok hooker and SuperSport analyst Owen Nkumane agrees.

He says the citing committee made a serious blunder in not suspending Du Plessis.

“There have been some unfair calls against South African players, but the call on Du Plessis is a tough one.

“It’s difficult to see whether it enhances or sullies the reputation of South African rugby players,” says Nkumane.

“There should be no generalisations and it should have been narrowed down to the Lappies Labuschagne incident. By that evidence, he should not have played.”

Fellow Springbok hooker and commentator Hanyani Shimange concurs, saying Du Plessis’ aggression and the way he approaches the game will always keep him in the referee’s sights.

But Shimange says he doesn’t believe Du Plessis is necessarily a liability, adding that “Bissie” would be the first player on his team sheet.

“He is the best hooker in the world and has had a bad patch with disciplinary issues, but that is the way he plays.

“He is very aggressive and combative, and with that, he is definitely an asset. I would definitely have him in the team,” Shimange says.

Are there inconsistencies in the citing system? According to the pair of former hookers, most definitely, with the European leagues being examples of consistent disciplinary measures meted out to players who transgress.

Nkumane feels the decision not to ban Du Plessis vindicates Poite, who sent Du Plessis off at Eden Park.

“Poite must be saying, ‘This is the type of player they’ve got and I was correct in sending him off’,” says Nkumane.

“From sitting back and thinking he had made the wrong decision, he now finds confirmation that he wasn’t wrong after all because this is what the player can get away with in South African rugby, which is not allowed in international rugby.”

Shimange says he has first-hand experience of the citing system.

He sat through a hearing which, he says, opened his eyes to how it works.

“Those hearings are pretty thorough and if the decision has been made, it has been made, but what people want is consistency.

“If something has been done this week, it has to be done next week with the same outcome. If a punch gets two weeks, then anyone guilty of punching should get two weeks,” notes Shimange.

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