NOLA GOLD’S JP DU PLESSIS: ‘WE HAVE GOT A SPECIAL GROUP HERE’
WRITTEN BY JOE HARVEY | PHOTO BY CHASE DENNIES
Coming out of their bye week, NOLA Gold is third in the Eastern Conference. After winning three of their opening seven games so far in the 2023 season, the side currently has 16 points, just four adrift of second-place New York Ironworkers.
Following a 4-12 regular season in 2022, the Gold remains the only original Major League Rugby side that has yet to reach the playoffs.
While the beginning of this campaign has already seen its ups and downs, this weekend will see NOLA take on Rugby ATL at the Gold Mine as their tilt toward the postseason continues.
Since arriving in Louisiana, JP du Plessis has been one of the key players on the team. Arriving in MLR with extensive playing experience in South Africa, Australia, and France, the 31-year-old quickly made an impact in North America.
Photo by Craig Boudreaux
While playing for San Diego Legion, du Plessis was named MLR Back of the Year in 2019, taking the side to the Championship Final that same season.
Joining New Orleans in 2020, the South African continued his dominance and last season was named as his team’s Back of the Year a season after taking part in all 16 games and starting 15 of them.
Having started all seven of his team’s fixtures so far in this campaign, du Plessis has experienced the highs of a dominant win over New York and the despair of a close 35-36 loss to the Seattle Seawolves last time out.
“I think if we realistically look at it, we have had a lot of changes in the season,” du Plessis said. “A lot of new players have joined. In our first fame, I think we had something like nine or ten new players.
“Anywhere, when you have such a big change, it is going to take a bit of time to get in rhythm, especially in rugby.
“I think we hoped for a better start [12-36 loss to New England Free Jacks], but it is expected. As the season went on, even against Atlanta, at half-time we were leading, in the second half we took our foot off the gas a little and we ended up losing that game [29-16].
“Same with Seattle the other weekend, we were 28-10 up and then maybe took our foot off the gas a little bit. We are definitely getting there.
“We need to be patient, we need to be realistic, we need to be honest with each other, and we are heading somewhere positive. That’s great.”
As eluded to by du Plessis, there have been a number of new arrivals in New Orleans during the offseason. With head coach, Kane Thompson, getting a full offseason to determine what a team in his image would look like, it has been a significant change.
Appointed just prior to the 2022 season getting underway, Thompson’s promotion from assistant coach to the lead act was a sudden one. Recruiting from his native New Zealand, Thompson has created an impressive side and unearthed some new stars.
For example, Tom Florence has been a revelation in the back-row, while the versatile Australian, Jordan Jackson-Hope, has also impressed regularly.
Photo by Craig Boudreaux
“There is always going to be positives and negatives,” du Plessis said. “We lost some players that had been here for a very long time and had given a lot to the club.
“But it is always good to have new faces, and we have got a lot of talent on board. That’s great. Everyone understands where we are a lot better and where we’re heading.
“I think the new players we have signed, we knew what every player had to bring and what was expected.
“Kane has been a part of the set-up for a long time. He had a bit more time to prepare for this season and signed players he knew could play in our system.
“The only challenge we had was just finding that synergy between everyone, and I think that was the main thing. The confidence is growing in the team, and that’s good.”
Next up in NOLA’s quest to end the long drought for postseason rugby is Rugby ATL. Playing their Eastern Conference rivals Rugby ATL for a second time this season, it is a chance to learn from the errors of that earlier defeat.
A victory would strengthen the Gold’s aim of reaching the playoffs at the conclusion of the regular season, the team currently in a deadlock with this Saturday’s visitors.
But while ATL are the focus this weekend, that aim of reaching the Eliminator round or a Conference final is never entirely out of mind.
Photo by Craig Boudreaux
Such a significant wait for knockout rugby can potentially come to an end in the weeks to come, with plenty having to go NOLA’s way; du Plessis, for one, believes that he and his teammates are on the road to success.
“In all honesty, the confidence that has grown within the squad these past weeks is something special,” du Plessis said.
“I think off the field, we have got a special group here, and if we continue the way we are going, I think we have got a really solid chance of fighting for a top spot and then doing for the Championship.
“I think, as the group will tell you, you get that feeling within a team. We have got everything we need this year to do it. There are no excuses for us.
“It is just about individuals really buying in and doing what they need to do to buy into the system, doing their extras and buying into what the coaches expect from us and then growing together as a team.
“I think we are definitely on the way there, and I strongly believe we have a chance this season.”
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