With skipper Smit switched to prop by then head coach Peter de Villiers, du Plessis seized his chance starting the first two Tests as the Springboks claimed the series victory.
An aggressive character on the pitch he took no prisoners, just ask Phil Vickery and Brian O'Driscoll who both felt his force during the first Test, before establishing himself as one of the world's best hookers.
And then there was Sean Fitzpatrick. Viewed as one of New Zealand's greatest ever rugby players and the most all-capped All Black of his time, he led his side to victory against the Lions in 1993.
It was not all plain sailing for 'Fitzy' however with a narrow first Test victory followed up by a second Test that saw the Lions claim their highest-scoring Test win in New Zealand, a game the hooker admitted was his worst game he played for the All Blacks.
But as is the case with all the greatest players, he came good when it mattered in the third Test, scoring a try and rallying his troops from 10-0 down for a decisive 30-13 victory in Auckland.
Just over a decade later it was the turn of fellow All Black Keven Mealamu on the big stage.
Although more remembered by Lions fans as the one that helped end Brian O'Driscoll's tour with that tip tackle, Mealamu played in all three tests as New Zealand stormed to a 3-0 series win.
Another to rack up the appearances for his country is Australia's most capped hooker Stephen Moore, who appeared in all three Tests during last summer's battle.
A key man in the second Test in helping to secure the late penalty from which Adam Ashley-Cooper's try levelled the series, Moore's experience shone through despite his country's loss.
Going further back, there are some equally viable candidates in the form of New Zealand captain Andy Dalton and Tane Norton.
Given the daunting task of following in flanker Graham Mourie's footsteps when he was handed the captain's armband the year before, Dalton helped New Zealand inflict a heavy 4-0 whitewash on the Lions in 1983, before being named New Zealand Rugby Player of the Year in 1984.
Before him came Norton, who after making his New Zealand debut during the 1971 tour which saw the British Lions emerge victorious, returned to the same scene as captain six years later, managing to turn the tables and claim a 3-1 series win.