It was the most anticipated encounter between the two old foes in years because so much was riding on it. Eden Park was (and still is) a fortress, but the 2013 Boks felt they had a chance.
And they had a good reason. Du Plessis, in the form of his life, won three penalties in the first 15 minutes. New Zealand had scored against the run of play and were under tremendous pressure with the hosts 7-3 down when one moment changed the course of the game.
A repeated bad pass from All Black scrumhalf Aaron Smith was the real offense in this incident. Watching the ball float past a waiting Dan Carter, du Plessis lined up a brilliant fly-half and issued the tackle heard throughout the rugby world.
He collapsed on Carter after just 16 minutes of the foam contest. It was a great success. It was a legal hit. It didn’t matter to the myopic, blood-fueled crowd.
Carter was left in a crumbling heap of what was one of the best legal solutions in the competition between old foes. This led to a brawl between the players in the immediate aftermath and one of the worst refereeing decisions in history.
French official Romain Poet, feeling the enormous pressure, withdrew under a tsunami of angry screams from the stands from 50,000 fans in no position to make an informed call. Du Plessis yellow-carded Poite – a decision that changed the course of the game, the 2013 Rugby Championship and possibly even history.
The All Blacks went on to win 29-15 and are still undefeated at Eden Park since 1994. It was a huge decision in the context of a game the Boks were getting the better of at that point.
Besides the disappointing result of Boks and Carter’s shoulder, which were collateral damage thanks to these great tackles, Du Plessis suffered the most. He was later issued the second yellow of the game (which was also very controversial) and was subsequently shown a red card.
World Rugby later annulled the first yellow because they rightly considered that Carter’s tackle was legal and Poite fouled, but it did not help the Boks or Du Plessis. The team loses and the player is portrayed as the villain.
“When I got the yellow card, I was dumbfounded and angry too,” Du Plessis recalled. As I walked to the sin-box, the bitch Andrew Hoare of the All Black Reserve, a good friend of mine, was shouting, “Bismarck, Bismarck!” “
“He was only 10 feet away and I was furious. I was trying to ignore him, but he kept yelling at me… eventually I made eye contact and he said, ‘I told you, you’re not allowed to touch Dan, buddy.’” I just burst out laughing.
“That’s a beautiful thing about rugby, that you can be enemies on the field, and then off the field we’re good mates. We’re very lucky to be able to play the beautiful game.”
People would say I was too aggressive but I always tried to play as hard as I could, but fairly.
At the time, Du Plessis played regional rugby for the Sharks and worked as a broker in his spare time.
“At the Sharks, we trained really early in the morning and into the afternoon. At that time, Coach John Plumtree really encouraged the guys to get a job outside of rugby,” said du Plessis, who has a BA in Economics from BCom.
“A woman who worked with me in the company loved Dan Carter. About five or six weeks before the Auckland Test, the Crusaders played a Super Rugby match in Durban and Dan signed his underwear brand Jockey, which sponsored him at the time.
“My colleague, being a Dan fan, went to the autograph and got me an autographed Jockey jersey from Carter. To Bismarck, best wishes, Dan,” she said. “I remembered that for some reason when I was lining up him.”
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The second yellow in the game is also still annoying. It was deemed that du Plessis had illegally tackled All Black winger Liam Maysam. It was a very marginal invitation, not helped by Mesam’s theatrics.
“People might say I was too aggressive, but I always tried to play as hard as I could, but fair,” said du Plessis. “I always tried to put the team above my own interests. I would say I was an honest player. When Mesam fell I was disgusted.
“The referee issued a yellow color, Masam was laughing at me as if to say: I caught you.” This is inappropriate.”
Du Plessis never got a chance to catch Carter right after the match. It was only much later that the two met and talked about processing.
“I only spoke to Dan after a few years in France when we were playing there,” said Du Plessis. He said, “Dude, you totally worn me out. “
As for pores? They don’t exchange Christmas cards.
The Eden Park debacle was a difficult moment, but something du Plessis has stepped over, having endured some adversity of a different kind in his formative years.
In his eleventh year, Du Plessis was playing for the Gray College XV second team, but made the Free State Craven of the Week side. He was then selected to SA Schools.
At any other rugby school nobody’s heard of it, but at Gray, where he made the Craven Week team the bare minimum, it was unusual but not something that particularly ruffled feathers.
“Not only did the Free State selection committee consist of the Gray coaches, but they chose me over the first-team Gray hooker,” said du Plessis. “I had a good Craven week and set up SA Schools. I thought I was great.
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“I went back to school for the third semester, expecting to be commended and immediately came back on the 15th for the rest of the season. I was 17 and it was my first big lesson in humility.
“It was also vital because it taught me that some coaches see certain things in players. Some value what you bring and some don’t. Also, some players perform well under a certain coach and then when they progress, or the coach does, they don’t perform at the same level.”
“It’s a testament to the nature of relationships in sports, too. This was a valuable lesson for a 17-year-old.”
Water polo loses, rugby gains
Du Plessis recently retired after a 20 year professional rugby career which happened, not by accident, but not by design either.
Now that rugby is over, he works on the family farm near Bethlehem where his mother, Jo Helen, still lives. Only now a brood has grown as Bismarck, his wife Anja and his five children, twins François and Gideon, little Bismarck and twins Hannah and Amelie live happily living and working the land.
It’s a big change for a guy who’s spent 20 years playing a professional sport, and one he never set out to play.
Fortunately, I wasn’t too bad at rugby, and I was offered a good contract with The Bulls when the US dream faded.
Bismarck dreamed of being an Olympian and water polo was the way to make it happen. He had offers to attend a university in the United States and initially considered several scholarship options.
But at that time his father, François, fell ill and chose to stay close to home. Water polo’s loss was the American college system’s rugby’s gain.
“When my parents got sick I knew I couldn’t leave. We are a close family and it was more important for me to stay close to them,” said du Plessis.
“There are many things in my life that have changed over the course of my career, many things that have not been certain, and many things that I have had to work for. But my family has always been one stable side.
“And if you look at my father’s illness, where the disease should be a burden on your life, it really brought our family closer together. I can always take a step back from that.
“Fortunately, I wasn’t too bad at rugby, and I was offered a good contract with The Bulls when the US dream faded away.
“But I turned it down and enrolled at the University of the Free State for a BA in Economics from BCom and played rugby for Bloemfontein. I wanted to have something behind my name because there are no guarantees of achieving it in sports.”
Two decades of excellence
Of course, you need not worry because Du Plessis’ professional career has spanned two amazing decades and he has been involved in some of the most important moments in the history of South African rugby.
He debuted with Cheetahs in 2003 as a hooker between props Os du Randt and CJ Van der Linde. This was followed by a move to the Sharks and his Test debut on 7 July 2007 against Australia in the Rugby Championship (then called the Tri-Nations) in Sydney. It was a great day for the Du Plessis family as older brother Jannie made her first appearance as a support.
The two are inseparable. Both have also won the Currie Cup on numerous occasions, Jani with the Cheetahs and Sharks, and Bismarck with the latter. Both were members of the Montpellier team that won the EPCR Challenge Cup in 2016, while Bismarck also won with the French club in 2021.
Bismarck played his first Super Rugby final for South Africa in 2007 for the losing Sharks team against the Bulls. He was a member of the 2007 World Cup winning Springbok team and was the starter when the Boks took over the world in 2009. That year the Boks won series against the British and Irish Lions and beat the All Blacks in three consecutive tests.
Bismarck played in some of the greatest tests ever between the Boks and the All Blacks. And he was a veteran when he helped guide the Bulls to an impressive 2022 United Rugby League semi-final victory over Leinster in Dublin.
There have even been some low points that made history like the 2011 World Cup quarter-final loss to the Wallabies, when referee Bryce Lawrence forgot the laws of the game.
As time went on, Bismarck came to appreciate the Boks’ dramatic defeat in the opening match of the 2015 World Cup against Japan as a seminal rugby moment. It was a very low level for Springbok rugby, but it was a great moment for the sport.
“I was on the receiving end against Japan. We lost and it will always be in my record that we lost that match,” said du Plessis.
But the thing is, history isn’t just about winning. I’ve been on teams that beat the All Blacks at the House of Pain (Carisbrook in Dunedin) for the first time. You want to be part of history, and on that occasion against Japan, you were part of history for the wrong reason from a Springbok perspective, but not for the sport.”
And now the farm and family are waiting. It is a new challenge that will bring more humility. Fortunately, life in rugby kept him humble and prepared Bismarck du Plessis for a different life. DM