Jan 08, 2016
Petrus Du Plessis' path to the top
Petrus Du Plessis' form has been turning heads. Always Saracens' Mr Dependable, his performances for Saracens so far this season at the set-piece have been one of many stand-outs of a superb campaign for the reigning Aviva Premiership champions.
Petrus Du Plessis’ rugby roots may be steeped in the Rainbow Nation of South Africa, but is the UK in which he has made a name for himself as one the countries finest scrummagers.
Of course, with a name such of Du Plessis there are no prizes for guessing where he hails from. His step-grandfather, Buurman Van Zyl, is a Pretorian rugby legend having built Northern Transvaal (now the Blue Bulls) into one of South Africa’s rugby powerhouses in a 13-year stint as Head Coach. Petrus’ career flourished, not in his country of his birth, but in English rugby as he swapped the beaches of the Western Cape for the glass town of St Helens, Lancashire, to begin his distinctive path to the top.
His journey to Saracens is different to most of his teammates. His name may sound South-African, but the sturdy tighthead served his apprenticeship in the lower leagues of England since the age of 19, playing for some of the North of England’s most traditional clubs such as Orrell, Sedgley Park and Nottingham.
Now the cornerstone of a youthful pack of Saracens’ forwards, the experienced front-rower has been in tremendous form in the No3 jersey, with his role in the recent demolition of a Leicester Tigers pack that included Argentine loosehead Marcos Ayerza, particularly impressive.
"Petrus Du Plessis was superb, and I’m not sure how he wasn’t Man of the Match, as to scrummage that way against Marcos Ayerza takes some doing. I thought he was brilliant" - Mark McCall
Here, Petrus outlines how he managed to swap the regional leagues of the North West to becoming a two-time Premiership champion after leaving Western Province’s Academy system in which he was a teammate of current Sarries hooker, Schalk Brits.
“I left Stellenbosch University and I had an offer to come over to England to Liverpool-St Helens Rugby Club when I was 19 years old, so I thought, why not go over to Europe and travel,” Du Plessis explained.
“I ended up staying two years in and around St Helens and I had trials at St Helens Rugby League during my time there. Liverpool-St Helens was a very traditional rugby club, and was the world’s oldest open rugby club when I was there. I remember it being quite the culture shock, training in mud-baths every Tuesday and Thursday and then preparing for our games in pokey changing rooms. It prepared me well for English Rugby, and Orrell sent scouts to watch me play and luckily they were suitably impressed by what they saw.”
Du Plessis made his way over the Billinge Hill divide that separates St-Helens and Wigan to join the Lancastrian club, and it was there were he began to cut his teeth in the championship.
“After one year of playing in the Liverpool St Helens first XV I joined Orrell. Orrell was more professional outfit. It was a full time organisation back then, and we were a lot more disciplined than Liverpool- St Helens. They (Orrell) were still a big club in the Championship and they still had a considerable presence in the North-West at the time, and we had some good players in the squad; guys like Nick Easter, Steve So'oialo, Alfie Too'ala and Rod Penney. It was at Orrell were I began to impress I suppose, and I produced some consistent performances at that level. My rugby was beginning to improve and people were beginning to sit up and take notice. I even scored on my debut!"
After impressing that season Du Plessis left the Lancashire club to join Sedgley Park, where he stayed for five years whilst obtaining a 1st Class Honours degree in Physiotherapy at Salford University. After a spell at championship club Nottingham, Du Plessis was snapped up by Saracens after a front row crisis hit the club in 2008. Since then he has gone on to make over a century of appearances for the club, and has played in four Premiership finals, winning the league on two occasions.
“They were hard grafting clubs and they expected the same off you,” said the 34-year old prop. “You would get a lot of game time there, plenty of full 80 minute games, and it was a good apprenticeship for me. In terms of the surroundings, well as I’m sure many can imagine it’s a world away from what we have here now at Allianz Park. We are so fortunate at Saracens in terms of how we are treated as players and individuals, simple things like, coming in for training and having your training gear and kit all washed and ready for you is a world away from what I was used to.”
“Compared to the Championship and below, the attention to detail at this level are poles apart from what I’m used to know. The professionalism is a massive difference here and the eye for detail the coaches have is superb. When I first arrived at Saracens it really opened my eyes in terms of match preparation. The attention to detail we go into when we are reviewing upcoming opponents is staggering, it’s something that I hadn’t experienced at previous clubs.”
Du Plessis has been key to Saracens. Tomorrow he is once again named in the No3 shirt as Saracens face Harlequins in round 8 of the Aviva Premiership.