Jannie du Plessis’ cerebral capacity has been well tested by the University of Bloemfontein’s medical department that certified him as a doctor, and Du Plessis has often spoken of his love of expanding his mind through reading, once confessing that he was working through the list of the Top 100 books of all time, although admitting that Tolstoy’s War and Peace looked better equipped to be a door jamb than bed-time reading.
Yet on Friday, the way he expanded on the relevance of winning and losing rugby matches in the context of how the world inexorably marches on suggests he already has a grasp of that eternal tomb.
“As a young man, I used to play rugby matches to win to give joy to my father, (who for some time has been terminally ill) but as pleasing as that can be, as you grow older you understand that life goes on, and that the game is bigger than me and anybody else, and that it is about contributing whatever you can to the goodwill of a nation,” the tighthead prop said.
Du Plessis has been in Durban over the last week working on rehabilitating a knee injury, with similarly injured senior Boks in Jean de Villiers, Francois Louw and JP Pietersen, while the majority of the squad was in Buenos Aires on a mission of redemption after the heart-sinking loss to Argentina.
The 32-year-old has had much time to reflect, and those who know him well will understand that he is not shooting the bull when he says that the recent adversity in the Springbok camp could not have been a better tonic heading into the World Cup.
“I have new respect for a coach,” Du Plessis says. “On the field you go through emotions but you are also caught up in the heat of the moment, but the range of emotions a coach goes through in a box in the stand, utterly powerless, is something different.
“I have had moments at home, waking in the night and shouting the odds as to why we lost, and waking up my wife and daughters,” he said. “I feel bad enough about that. What does the coach go through?”
Well the coach could be forgiven for knocking on the doctor’s door in the early hours, asking for a sedative, but after breakfast the next morning, all he can do is share the reality of the situation with the players, reminding them of the public expectation but at the same time exuding calm and confidence.
“Look, the desire to win and galvanise individual desire into a team objective can only come from players who realise that their personal worries (and egos) are subservient to a much greater need.”
Du Plessis says that point was reached after the humiliating loss to the Pumas in Durban.
“Every person in that squad knew that we had hopelessly failed the standards we set ourselves,” Du Plessis said.
“The guys went to a country where it is much harder to win than people realise and ground out a win with their hearts on their sleeves.”
But how much relevance is there in that win in an international season that has seen the Boks lose three Rugby Championship matches in a row?
“The question quite obviously is, ‘can we win the World Cup from here’? Du Plessis said. “In sport, you only build character in tough times; when you are winning that can happen to a degree if you have to pull the win out of the fire, but character is an unseen belief in a squad that you can handle a situation of pressure on the field.
“And I can promise you the pressure we were under after the Durban Test was immense. Especially for the older guys and the coaching staff,” Du Plessis said. “Few understand the expectation of the Springboks and the repercussions of not fulfilling those expectations.”
“I relate to a movie called The Replacements, where Keanu Reeves is a quarterback and when his team are struggling, he says: “You keep getting asked why you are losing, and the fact is that you are training and trying harder than ever, but it feels like you are in quick sand - the harder you try the deeper you sink.”
Du Plessis says the win in Argentina has elevated the players out of the quick sand. He says they drew inspiration from the times when they could see it in the eyes of the All Blacks and the Wallabies that they were in trouble.
“How important is the World Cup for us? I have played rugby long enough to know that you cannot play for others outside of your squad. For many of us, this is a life’s work that is on the line. It is not life or death, but as a rugby player, it is your life’s work.”
Original source: ‘This is our life’s work’