United Rugby Championship

Bismarck ominously starting to find feet at Bulls: 'He looks like a Test player again'

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Bismarck du Plessis. (Photo by Ben Evans/Gallo Images)
Bismarck du Plessis. (Photo by Ben Evans/Gallo Images)
  • If last week's performance is anything to go by, Bismarck du Plessis is finding his feet at the Bulls.
  • That's an ominous sign for opponents as it's clear the former Bok hooker is still very much keen to play a big role for his new team in the URC.
  • But Bulls mentor Jake White also says he's already playing his role as a mentor to the younger forwards to perfection.

Following the Bulls' maiden victory in the United Rugby Championship last weekend, a poignant photograph of Bismarck du Plessis embracing fellow experienced front-row member Jacques van Rooyen was captured.

The image is striking because of the unbridled joy on the former Springbok hooker's face.

For the majority of his stellar career, Du Plessis had a reputation for being an unashamed enforcer, a relentless operator so focused and so competitive that his on-field demeanour bordered on grumpy.

It's early days yet in 79-cap international's two-year stint at Loftus, but there were glimpses of the exact reasons why Jake White, the Bulls' director of rugby, recruited him for the franchise's new adventure in Europe.

Given his age - 37 - it's only natural to assume that mentoring is a significant part of his duties.

READ | Bulls grateful for a forgotten, popular face's help with refereeing challenges

"There are some things to be taken into account when it comes to this," said White.

"Simphiwe Matanzima (who started at loosehead alongside Du Plessis last week against Cardiff) is a relatively young and he's coming through the ranks. To have Bismarck alongside him, showing him the ropes, look after him and prepare him for some of the things that are going happen at this level is massive.

"We saw that influence (against Cardiff). It was the first big tick of the box that I wanted. I'm really happy about it."

Yet it also became clear in the 29-19 win in the Welsh capital that Du Plessis, much like his longtime Bok team-mate Morne Steyn, still very much wants to deliver the type of performances that suggest he's the first-choice player in his position.

He carried with vigour, completed all five of his tackles and was a customary massive presence at the breakdown, eventually winning two turnovers.

"By his own standards and admission, Bismarck wasn't up to his usual standard in the first two weeks. But to be fair to him, he joined us late and has to get a feel for what we're doing here at the Bulls," said White.

"It was going to take time, but I saw him make a massive step-up last week. He looked like a player who's played international rugby. That's always nice."

In fact, Du Plessis' pedigree was part of a broader theme of the Bulls boasting an increasing number of Test players in their ranks, particularly on the bench.

White had noted in the opening round defeat to Leinster that the hallmark of a great side like the Irish giants is that internationals are even to be found among the substitutes.

"We can bring on Arno Botha, a Springbok. We can enlist Lizo Gqoboka, another Springbok," said the Bulls mentor.

"You see the difference they made. These lessons reaffirm what I know - your depth makes a massive difference if you want to be successful in this competition." 

The Bulls' final fixture of their URC tour is against Edinburgh on Saturday.

Kick-off is at 18:15 (SA time).

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