The greatest hookers of all time: Bismarck du Plessis
Bismarck du Plessis ousted his captain John Smit, out of the South Africa hooker role in 2008, then dominated as one of the world's best
Major teams: Free State Cheetahs, Natal, Sharks, Montpellier
Country: South Africa
Test span: 2007-2015
South Africa caps 79 (50 starts)
Test points: 55 (11T)
Stuck behind the sizeable figure of skipper John Smit, Bismarck du Plessis only accrued two starts in the first 14 Tests of his career.
While those cameos involved an appearance in the 2007 Word Cup final triumph over England, a year of frustration evidently fuelled a fire of ambition.
When controversial Springbok head coach Peter de Villiers decided to shift Smit to tighthead in 2008, it was partly because du Plessis had outgrown his role as an impact replacement.
Dynamic and abrasive with exceptional breakdown nous, the God-fearing farmer’s boy from Bethlehem in the Free State – who is also a qualified insurance broker – set about establishing himself as one of the most respected hookers on the planet.
The 2009 series against the British & Irish Lions offered an impressive foundation, du Plessis playing all 80 minutes of the first two Tests and helping to carve out an unassailable 2-0 lead thanks to a pair of menacing, obdurate performances.
A 32-29 defeat of New Zealand in Hamilton completed a hat-trick of wins over the All Blacks and added that season’s Tri-Nations title for the Springboks.
Du Plessis has had elder brother Jannie for support the whole way. The pair debuted for South Africa in the same game against the Wallabies in 2007 and shared seven years together at the Sharks as well, both announcing they were to leave Durban in June 2015. Both have since joined French Top 14 side Montpellier, where they helped best Harlequins to clinch the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
In recent times, Adriaan Strauss emerged as another international rival and red-mist moments brought Bismarck bans for alleged eye gouging and kicking during his career.
According to Sharks coach Gary Gold however, du Plessis’s overall reputation is unblemished.
“For me, Bismarck is comfortably the best hooker in the world,” he says. “Nobody else can hold a flame to him. His throwing is outstanding, his scrummaging huge and his work-rate around the park immense.”