Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis is a central figure in Saturday’s World Cup Pool B clash against Scotland at St James’ Park.
Out of sorts against Japan, dropped for the Samoa encounter, Du Plessis is back in the starting lineup but there is a feeling that he could be playing for his place.
Adriaan Strauss was excellent against Samoa and Schalk Brits was very good off the bench. Du Plessis needs to fire because when he is on song, there is no better hooker in world rugby.
But he has looked an unhappy tourist for much of the campaign, and his one performance, while laced with moments of brilliance, was largely uninspiring.
Without the injured Victor Matfield and Jean de Villiers the team needs its leaders and experienced players to stand up. Du Plessis could be the touch paper that lights the pack and draws another fiery performance from them. Against a primed Scotland he needs to rediscover his mojo.
This is only the second World Cup meeting between the sides and the 26th in total. On paper the Boks should win. But on paper they should have beaten Japan.
The Boks showed that when they stick to a tactical plan as they did against Samoa and their big ball carriers give them momentum, opponents will struggle to match them because of the intensity they bring on the gainline.
Scotland, under New Zealand coach Vern Cotter, are incredibly well drilled and their defensive wall will not crumble easily. It will take an hour of continual Bok bombardment to reap rewards.
This match will not be won in the first hour, but it could be lost if the Springboks are not completely engaged both physically and mentally and allow Scotland to stay in the game.
Cotter made 10 changes to the team that beat the USA last Sunday while Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has made only three changes — two of them enforced.
Lood de Jager replaces Matfield at lock and Jesse Kriel takes over from De Villiers in the midfield with Du Plessis at hooker completing the shuffling.
Saturday’s match will be Scotland’s third in 10 days, which is why Cotter opted to rotate so many players. He has also packed the side with the most physically imposing players he has — which means starts for South African-born prop WP Nel and flank Josh Strauss.
“Everybody saw that SA lifted the intensity both in attack and defence last week,” Cotter said. “They went back to a game they’ve been playing over the past two years, which is about getting over the advantage line and then piling on pressure. They’ve got big powerful players as we know.
“Our team has been selected to compete with SA. This is our third game in 10 days, we’ve taken that into account. These players will be giving 100% of themselves. And it’s a team that will be competitive.
“We said we would need to use everyone and that’s the case now. It’s time to step up.”
Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw also warned about the Springboks’ physicality. “It’s going to be a hugely physical contest, a tough game,” he said. “They bounced back from defeat with a sound performance against Samoa. They blew a physical Samoan team off the park. We understand how tough the challenge is but it’s one we’re ready to take.”
Scotland has never beaten the Boks away from home, but Newcastle is as close to a home game as they will have at this World Cup.
The Scottish border is only a few kilometres away and St James’ Park stadium will be packed with the tartan army. This is essentially an away game for the Boks, and they will wear white for the match.
Hopefully it will not be a sign of them surrendering their World Cup campaign.
Fourie Du Preez has been given the captain’s armband ahead of the game, while Schalk Burger will serve as vice captain.
The Springboks almost certainly know now that a compatriot of theirs will anchor the starting Scottish scrum against them in the World Cup match at St James’ Park here on Saturday.
WP Nel, the stocky tighthead Scotland prop from the less than bright lights of Loeriesfontein, Northern Cape, will face his former mates. This would be interesting.
Meanwhile, former President Nelson Mandela will be honoured by the Scottish team before the commencement of the game.
The World Rugby will induct the fallen legend in the World Rugby Hall of Fame.
This was confirmed by the minister of sport Fikile Mbalula at the launch of Recreation Day in Pretoria, today.
“It’s not by coincident but also consistent that World Rugby decided to honour Nelson Mandela in Scotland which it’s biggest city Glasgow was the first to offer him its Freedom of the City,” says Mbalula.
Deputy Minister of Sport Gert Oosthuizen will be joined by former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, at the ceremony in England.