JP Du Plessis – I Feel Like NOLA Is In A Good Spot
Written by Joe Harvey | Photos by Craig Boudreaux
For the first three years of Major League Rugby, JP du Plessis was a rock in the midfield for San Diego Legion.
Helping the legion reach two Shield Finals in 2018 and 2019, after the 2020 season was cut short, du Plessis swapped the West Conference for the East in order to play for Nate Osborne’s NOLA Gold.
Now 10 years into his professional career, du Plessis’ career has seen him play in Australia, South Africa and France, but it is in North America where the 30-year-old flourished.
It was in 2019 that the center was awarded the MLR Back of the Year award, having played in 18 matches that season, du Plessis scored seven tries and made a colossal 214 tackles.
After signing a four-year contract with NOLA, the longest in league history, du Plessis was unveiled as one of the team’s captains, alongside Kyle Baille, the South African has started in six of the Gold’s seven games this season.
LIFE IN LOUISIANA
Speaking over Zoom, du Plessis has a broad grin on his face the entire time we talk. It is clear that the 30-year-old is enjoying life in New Orleans and embracing the new challenge.
So far in MLR, the Gold have never made the playoffs. The closest that the team came was in 2019. Osborne’s men started the season strongly, but tight losses late in the season against Seattle Seawolves, San Diego, Houston SaberCats and Rugby United New York meant that the team missed out on a top four finish by a single point.
It was no way for one of the most exciting teams to end their season and in 2020 the side won three of the five games that they played, finishing third in the East.
Now, after seven games played in 2021, NOLA sits atop their conference with 24 points, one ahead of New York in second and three ahead of both New England and Rugby ATL.
Having been a pillar for San Diego, du Plessis must now be the same for New Orleans and is enjoying the opportunity presented to him, having admired the team from afar for three seasons.
“For me, I have been in awe of the rugby and the style they have played,” du Plessis said. “I love to play running rugby, positive rugby, so New Orleans was immediately top choice for me in that.
“On top of that, to be around a team and in an environment with people that really want you to be there, and performing, helps.
“As a rugby player, your career only lasts so long, so you need to surround yourself with the right people and the right systems. That is extremely important to me and my family are extremely happy here.”
KINGS IN THE EAST
At the end of virtually every round of MLR action this season, there has been a new leader of the East Conference. New York, Rugby ATL and Toronto have all led the division. Now the leaders, du Plessis and his teammates will be hoping to maintain their position and finally secure NOLA a place in the playoffs.
“I think so far it has been very clear that it is a very, very tough competition between all the teams,” du Plessis said.
“It is an extremely tough league to perform in, it is great, and it comes back to what Major League Rugby has done, and how teams have improved and evolved over the years.
“I think that over the first couple of games we have done some good and some bad. We have been happy with some of the stuff, but we haven’t really performed to the standards that we have set ourselves.
“We have always said from before the beginning of the season; we want to work in the first half of the season to peak in the second half of the season.
“I think we are 100% on track to do that and in every game, we are getting closer to that. It comes back to our thoughts, staying positive, thinking positively and working towards our goals.
“I have no doubt that we will be flying towards the second half of the season and we have got the players to do it, the structure and the coaching staff to back that up.
“I am very positive for the games that are still coming, because I do feel like we are in a very good spot.”
PLAYING WITH BROTHERS
This weekend will see du Plessis return to California for the first time since last May, when the 2020 campaign was initially postponed.
At that time, San Diego had won all five of the games they had played, the South African forming a formidable partnership with two-time World Cup winning All Black, Ma’a Nonu.
So far in 2021, San Diego have been unable to repeat the form of 12 months ago, Zack Test and Scott Murray’s team currently fourth in the West Conference.
Most recently having lost 21-15 at the hands of their Conference rivals, Seattle, San Diego will host NOLA and their former midfield star at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center on Saturday evening.
But, whilst there are plenty of friends who will be wearing red and black, du Plessis’ main concern is performing well for his new team this weekend.
“For three years I have been playing with them and, obviously, it is a different feeling to be playing against them,” du Plessis said.
“For me as a professional sportsman, you have to put all those other things aside, it is another match. I am playing with my brothers, alongside brothers that have fought with me all this preseason and I am really loving it.
“I am excited to see a lot of my Legion friends who I have known for the past few years, but as soon as we get onto the field, it is war.”
- How do you define “being fit” both physically and mentally?
It is a good question and I heard someone’s answer the other day and they basically said to have a good balance. Honestly, I agree, but I also believe that in rugby we spend a lot of time on physically developing ourselves in the gym and on the field and one of the things we really neglect is the focus on improving your mental health and your mental fitness. For a big part of my career, that was something that I really actually struggled with, for a lot of different reasons and I have had to learn over the years to improve. To be honest, it cost me my early career and I think that not just in rugby, in any sport or business that you might be in, it plays such a big role in whatever you do, yet I don’t think we spend enough time on developing that and it can be stuff as simple as taking five minutes a day to do some positive thinking, cutting out all the negative thoughts. It is all basically habits, the habit of negative thought, the habit of feeling stressed or nervous, all these things can lead to something else. I think we all struggle with it and I think it all comes down to spending time on developing your mind.
- On game days, how do you prepare mental clarity? / How important is it to prepare mentally for game days?
It is massive. To be honest, the stress we have week in, week out to perform is massive. A lot of the stress we actually put on ourselves and we create in our own minds, so firstly I like to have a clarity on what I need to improve on for that game and things that I need to work on and things I have to focus on. To do that, I go to one side, somewhere it is quiet, take my book with me and I make a couple of points, I write it all down, keeping it simple, so there is clarity and once there is clarity that takes away a lot of the anxiety and the doubt. Then, as a man of faith, I spend a lot of time reading bible verses that give me reassurance, usually I then write something on my arm, sometimes a verse, but something to just remind me in the game that there is no reason to fear or doubt and that is my routine that I follow.
- Do you find that exercising or doing some form of physical activity helps you mentally?
100% and I think this lockdown especially was a great example, Before that, my whole life had consisted of training, so I didn’t really realize the impact that exercising has on my mental health. I remember when we flew back to South Africa, we had to quarantine in a hotel. I have got three kids and that alone challenged me mentally, but just the fact that I couldn’t train was super challenging, so I started sneaking out of the room, finding a quiet spot and doing some simple exercises, just burpees, push ups and sit-ups and things like that, and what was great to see was how my little ones started to follow me and do stuff with me. But, to answer the point, I think it is extremely important and there has to be a balance and we have got to spend just as much time physically developing as well as mentally developing yourself.
- How do you mentally overcome a tough loss and/or injury?
Again, I think it comes back to your thought process. With a loss, it is never easy losing, but the best places and the best teams have an ability to immediately get back to the work-ons, to see what the reasons were and to see how they can improve. So, they don’t just put it behind them, they study it to see what wet wrong and then have the ability to flush it. It is something that I have learnt over time, it doesn’t get easier, but it is definitely something that if you don’t get rid of it will compound into further losses and further doubts, so it is extremely important to go back to your roots and your structures.
- How do you contribute to your mental health on a daily basis?
For me, I have found it really beneficial to stretch a lot, especially as my career has progressed, I find that has diminished injuries a lot more. I use the time while I am stretching to put some motivational stuff on YouTube and pick up little points while they are talking. We all know these things in our minds, but it is just good to be reminded about these things, so when I find time to stretch, I go to where there is no noise, lie down and play this YouTube video of whoever, I have been through most of them, and I find that adds on to what I already know and gives me more armour to fight all these negative thoughts.
HOW TO WATCH
This Saturday NOLA Gold travels to San Diego to take on the Legion at 4:00 PM ET. All fans can watch the match for free on The Rugby Network.
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Written By Joe Harvey I Photos By Quinn Width and Davey Wilson
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