The Boks captain who never lost a series

After their excellent showing against the 1970 All Blacks, the Springboks rugby team showed a number of changes after the retirement of some of their top players such as the 1970 skipper Dawie de Villiers, who hung up his boots and prepared himself for a role in politics.

LIKE FATHER LIKE SON: Morné du Plessis, like his father before him, led the Springboks to great success during his tenure as captain
Picture: TERRY SHEAN/SUNDAY TIMES

A new captain, prop-forward Hannes Marais, was appointed, while Johan Claassen was retained as coach.

There was also a new manager recrutied, old 1937 Bok Flappie Lochner.

New faces in the touring team included scrumhalf Joggie Viljoen, John Williams at lock, props Sakkie Sauermann and Martiens Louw, centres Peter Cronje and Peter Swanson, wing Hannes Viljoen and flyhalf Dawie Snyman.

But perhaps the most important new cap was eighthman Morné du Plessis, who was to play a huge role in Springbok rugby for many years.

It proved to be a controversial six-week tour, with anti-apartheid protests wherever the Springboks played.

A state of emergency was declared in Queensland, Australia, and altogether about 700 protesters were arrested.

The Springboks played 13 matches on tour including three Test matches – two in Sydney and one in Brisbane.

The Test series was won 19-11, 14-6 and 18-6 and the Boks left Australia unbeaten in all 13 matches.

Du Plessis had an amazing sports pedigree.

His father, Felix du Plessis, captained SA in their first Test match after World War 2, being successful in the first three Tests before being unceremoniously dropped for the fourth.

They remain the only father and son combination to date who both captained the Springboks. Du Plessis’s mother, Pat, captained SA at field hockey and his uncle, Horace Smethurst, captained SA at soccer on a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1947.

At Stellenbosch University, Du Plessis represented SA Universities and played five first-class cricket matches as a medium-paced bowler.

However, he said being hit for two consecutive sixes by Barry Richards when playing for WP against Natal hastened his decision to concentrate on rugby.

Du Plessis was appointed captain of SA in 1975 and led the country’s national rugby team with great success for five years, losing only two Tests as skipper.

He never lost a series as captain.

Despite losing two matches, once to the All Blacks of 1976 and once to the Lions of 1980, both series were eventually won 3-1.

Probably his greatest moment in the game came in 1995 when he was appointed as the manager of the Springboks for the World Cup.

He recalls the “Madiba Magic” of the final when a dropped goal by Bok flyhalf Joel Stransky broke the deadlock and SA won the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Before the match, then-president Nelson Mandela had been given a number six jersey and Du Plessis recalls that he had not expected him to walk out onto the field after the game wearing it. It was a moment that no-one who saw it at the ground or on TV will ever forget.

The modest du Plessis was later inducted as a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy, which promotes the positive effect sport has in tackling various challenging social issues such as mental health, HIV-Aids, substance abuse, crime among juveniles, discrimination and gender equality.

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