A penitent Bismarck du Plessis will return to the Sharks front row for Friday’s match against the Highlanders in Dunedin but he will not resume the captaincy.

The hooker has completed his four-match ban for a kick to the head of a Chiefs player, a suspension that started the week after he had issued a public apology for “irresponsible behaviour” in a match against the Bulls in Pretoria, and after a frank discussion with coach Gary Gold, Du Plessis has agreed that it was best for the team that experienced lock Marco Wentzel continues leading the side and Du Plessis concentrates solely on recapturing the form that made him the best hooker in the world in 2012 and 2013 and, some would argue, in 2011, as well.

The reality is that Du Plessis was always going to be demoted after repeated acts of ill discipline that go back to 2014 when he was made captain by then coach Jake White. Du Plessis’s infamous lashing out of his boot at a Chiefs player was almost a replica of his offence against a Cheetahs player last year.

Du Plessis can be a fantastic player, but his tendency to embrace the red mist makes him a debatable leader – in a rugby game, anyway. You would follow him in the Charge of the Light Brigade, but we know how that ended before the Russian guns in the Crimea.

Before the Sharks left on tour, Gold admitted that he and Du Plessis had to discuss the captaincy and a “decision that benefits the team will be made, without sentimentality.”

Gold, speaking from the Sharks’ temporary base in the Sydney suburb of Coogee Beach, attempted to disguise the blindingly obvious when he said that a demure Du Plessis had re-evaluated his capacity to lead the side at a time when his form is an issue – he has lost his place as Springbok starting hooker to Adriaan Strauss.

“Bismarck has shown incredible humility about his personal situation over the past month and he feels that he just wants to get back into the Sharks team and make as big an impact as he can,” Gold diplomatically said before spinning the following: “It’s unbelievably noble of Bismarck to have this attitude and this is a much bigger deal as far as the media goes than it is for us. Marco has done a good job (since taking over a fortnight ago from injured stand-in captain Patrick Lambie). and he will retain the captaincy.”

Gold said that he had been impressed with Du Plessis’s attitude during his suspension.

“He wants to prove his worth and concentrate on playing well for the Sharks again,” Gold said. “He has been extremely hard on himself over the last four weeks. This (the captaincy issue) has been driven by him. He wants to give back to the team and its supporters and we will select him to give him that opportunity.

“As far as I’m concerned, what’s happened has happened,” Gold said. “Bismarck has paid the price and we must move on now.”

The Sharks have broken their journey to the remote New Zealand city of Dunedin by stopping over in Sydney, which is certainly a few degrees warmer than the frosty South Island destination known as “The Edinburgh of the South”, both for its colonisation by Scottish settlers and its frigid temperatures. Hence the name “The Highlanders” for a team better known to Kiwis as Otago.

BY Mike Greenaway

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