Cape Town - Jean-Luc du Plessis’ chances of contributing to Western Province’s Currie Cup campaign appear to be hanging in the balance as specialists weigh up whether he should undergo another hip operation.
The flyhalf did not travel with WP when they undertook their two match tour of France, which included matches against Narbonne and Montpellier, according to supersport.com website.
Although he made a return to the Stormers team towards the end of Super Rugby, when Damian Willemse was first involved with the Junior Springboks and then injured, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck confirmed at the time that Du Plessis was still troubled by the injuries that kept him out of rugby for over a year and which necessitated an operation in the United States during the summer in order to get him right.
Du Plessis has not played since having to sit out the last Super Rugby game against the Sharks and according to WP coach John Dobson, he is unlikely to be back in the selection mix any time soon.
“Last year it was the other hip that was injured and he was out for six months and this time it is a different hip with the same injury so I guess you can figure it out for yourself, but we are hopeful that he won’t have to undergo an operation this time,” said Dobson.
It seems though that an operation is a possibility if the problem does not clear up, and as Fleck said a few months ago, Du Plessis looks destined to be troubled with hip injuries for the rest of his career and will need to be managed accordingly.
Dobson answered in the negative when asked if Du Plessis would be available for Saturday’s opening Currie Cup match of the season at Newlands, but saying “He will definitely not be available this week” came across as understatement. With just one round of matches to be played in the domestic competition before the playoffs, it seems unlikely that Du Plessis will be playing much part in Province’s attempt to defend the title they won last year, if any at all.
Dillyn Leyds started the second tour match against Montpellier at flyhalf but it doesn’t appear that Dobson considers him his ideal option in that position.
“The thing is that Dillyn sparks so much for us from the back, he is the real talisman of the team who we are looking to fulfil the role that Huw Jones (now with Scotland) played for us last year,” said Dobson.
“We feel we would lose a lot of Dillyn’s value if he was not at the back, where he enjoys the space and is the spark of our counter-attacking play.”
There is a chance that Damian Willemse, currently on tour with the Springboks, will be back with the Streeptruie when the Boks go to Australasia. Bok coach Rassie Erasmus has hinted that Willemse might not be included in the group for the games in Brisbane and Wellington and instead stay in South Africa to prepare himself for a possible role in the home tests that follow against the Wallabies and All Blacks. Dobson confirmed it, but said that it would all depend on how well Willemse goes this weekend in Mendoza.
“That is a difficult question to answer (whether Damian will be back) because obviously we don’t want him to be but if he is it will be a campaign changing boost for us,” said Dobson.
“The plan was that Damian might be available for us while the Boks are in Australasia, but that is not cast in stone and Damian is talented enough to change that. He really is a good player and it wouldn’t surprise me if he stays with the Bok group throughout. So we are not banking on him returning.”
The absence of both Willemse and Du Plessis from the WP group means that the Currie Cup can’t be used as an experiment to see if a Du Plessis/Willemse combination in the flyhalf/fullback axis might bring dividends, which is something that Fleck has mooted as a possibility for the Stormers next year.
But it will be an opportunity for young Josh Stander to grow and possibly add to the pivot depth that has been denuded since the loss of Robert du Preez to Durban, Kurt Coleman to the Southern Kings and Brandon Thomson to overseas.
The former Bulls player was recruited from Pretoria in the last off-season and made his Super Rugby debut in the last match against the Sharks, and delivered a confident and mature performance.
“I was happy with Josh’s performances towards the end of the SuperSport Challenge and also in the Super Rugby match he played against the Sharks.
The thing about Josh is that he was not part of the John Mitchell era at the Bulls (so he did not derive the benefits of the attacking emphasis) but he is a fine attacking player and anyone who saw him play at school will know he is an exceptional attacking flyhalf.
He is starting to head back towards that style of play now.”