Stalwart Springbok prop Jannie du Plessis described the criticism he has had to face this year as character-building for him but extremely hurtful for his loved ones despite earning his place in the squad for a third World Cup appearance.
Du Plessis struggled for form during the Super Rugby competition as part of a dismal Sharks’ campaign, but as soon as the international season began, the 32-year-old confirmed that he is indisputably South Africa’s number one tighthead prop with a couple of powerful displays. He shrugged off suggestions that he was merely peaking at the right time.
“I think it’s by grace that I’m playing well now, I didn’t try any less hard at the start of the season. I want to see any player that doesn’t try his best whenever he runs out on to the field. I thought that the Sharks would actually win Super Rugby, we were experienced enough and we worked incredibly hard. Things just didn’t happen for us, so many games we could’ve won but it’s an unforgiving competition and just one missed tackle can mean you lose by two points. And then you play another top team and before you know it you’ve lost three in a row …
“So it was a disappointing Super Rugby season even though I put my heart and soul into it. You try not to listen when people call you too old or terrible. The humiliation makes you tough but it’s very hard for the people you care about; people say such bad things. So you do sit and reflect and think maybe it’s time to call it quits …
“But at the start of the Test season, the coach [Heyneke Meyer] told us a story about how things have different value for different people – a ring might just be stainless steel, but if it was your father’s wedding ring then it will have immense value for you. My effort has been no different and I’m happy with the faith the coach has shown in me and I believe we will win the World Cup,” Du Plessis said.
The veteran of 64 Tests said the thought of proving the critics wrong was also part of the motivation he felt before the tournament, where he and Bismarck will become the first pair of brothers to appear in three World Cups.
“You always feel under pressure because people have expectations and as a rugby player you always want to make people feel better. Everyone reacts in a similar way to criticism and that is to prove it wrong. But you learn how to discern between good criticism and bad criticism the older you get. Some people just don’t like the way you look, the way you talk or even just your hairstyle, so they’re going to criticise regardless,” Du Plessis said.