Rainbow Cup SA Team of the Tournament

As you’d expect, top dogs, the Bulls, provide the bulk of our PRO14 Rainbow Cup SA Team of the Tournament, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The Pretoria franchise closed out the local tournament by solidifying their status as South Africa’s premier team with a convincing 34-22 win over the Sharks in last Saturday’s domestic decider in Durban.

With five wins out of six – their lone loss coming by a single point (34-33) against the Lions at Ellis Park – the Bulls (25) were a cut above the rest and have been rewarded with six players in our team ahead of their North-South final showdown with Benetton in Treviso this weekend.

The Stormers and Lions didn’t get a chance to end their campaigns on a high with their scheduled dead rubber called off due to Covid protocols. Instead, the Capetonians were awarded four log points, which saw them finish second on 17 points, one ahead of the Sharks and nine more than the wooden spoonists from Johannesburg.

The Sharks have four representatives in our team, the Stormers have three – including the Player of the Tournament – while the Lions have two.

15: Damian Willemse (Stormers)

Started and finished strongly, a testament to the 23-year-old’s mental toughness after the whole salary drama mid-tournament. Dangerous as ever with ball in hand, defensively dependable and safe as houses under the high ball. Also took on added responsibility when the Stormers went with the young halfback pairing of Godlen Masimla and Abner van Reenen. Edged Aphelele Fassi, who excelled for the Sharks.

14: Madosh Tambwe (Bulls)

The speedster from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a traveller in more ways than one, having previously played for the Lions and then the Sharks, but he seems to have found his rugby home. Was at the peak of his powers in his maiden competition for the Pretoria-based Bulls, putting the afterburners on full blast to score some terrific tries and showed marked improvement work rate-wise.

13: Lukhanyo Am (Sharks)

A key presence in the Sharks team – as captain, defensive organiser and as he showed against the Bulls at the weekend, as an understated playmaker. A silent assassin with ball in hand, he created plenty of scoring opportunities with subtle sidesteps, deft hands and impeccable timing, a prime example being the try he set up for Siya Kolisi. Shaded Wandisile Simelane, who was lethal for the Lions and rewarded with a Springbok call-up.

12: Cornal Hendricks (Bulls)

Continued his unbelievable form in the Bulls midfield. Strong, skillful and smart, the stalwart played a starring role to help power the men from Pretoria into yet another final, even memorably ploughing through Pieter-Steph du Toit in the thrilling North-South derby at Loftus in one of his many barnstorming surges. Who knew, aside from Jake White, what a piercing “true north” Hendricks has in him as well – the ability to suddenly straighten and slice through the line like a hot knife through butter.

11: Edwill van der Merwe (Stormers) – Player of the Tournament

The breakout star of South African rugby halfway into the year, the Stormers livewire was like a bolt of electricity. Those who were unaware of his hot-stepping heroics for Maties in the Varsity Cup and the Junior Springboks now know exactly who he is and what type of mesmerising magic the wing’s capable of. The smallest player on the field yet stood the tallest as he consistently cut defences to pieces and emerged as the tournament’s top try-scorer with five fantastic five-pointers.

10: Morné Steyn (Bulls)

Like fine wine. The 36-year-old continued his age-defying form, pulling the strings as only a seasoned puppet master can and booting himself back into the Springbok squad for the first time since 2016. His deputy Chris Smith also impressed, while Tim Swiel was solid and showed BMT to slot match-winning penalties in Johannesburg and Durban in successive weeks.

9: Jaden Hendrikse (Sharks)

The former South African Under-20 star has made the step-up to senior rugby with aplomb and pushed hard for a place in the Springbok squad with his consistently excellent performances. A real livewire, he asked questions and created tries through good vision and fearlessness and was tactically on target. The Lions’ AndrĂ© Warner reminded of his ability, taking tactical responsibility in Elton Jantjies’ absence and sparked one of the tries of the tournament against the Stormers at Ellis Park.

8: Elrigh Louw (Bulls)

Duane Vermeulen was typically talismanic. The Bulls captain maximised his minutes to the point that he was the most impactful No.8, however, given his limited game time and the tremendous form of his teammate, we had to make room for 21-year-old Louw, who was nothing short of remarkable in every aspect on the blindside flank.

7: Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers)

Enhanced his reputation as a one-of-a-kind athlete. After a year out of action because of a career-threatening injury, the 2019 World Player of the Year hit the ground running with four phenomenal 80-minute performances that had one questioning whether he’s a mere mortal. Scored a memorable try against the Sharks in Durban, where he also made 17 tackles in a Man of the Match effort, and made over 30 hits against the Bulls in Pretoria. Freakish! Special mention must be made of Vincent Tshituka, who was the linchpin of the Lions.

6: MJ Pelser (Lions)

While it’s fair to say the 22-year-old continued to make a name for himself with his tireless and tenacious turnouts, more than anything, his sterling form has more and more fans calling him “the next Jaco Kriel.” Similar in style and stature and seemingly equipped with the same impressive speed as the Lions legend, the ever-present Pelser was all action, running in tries and mowing down defenders.

5: Ruan Nortje (Bulls)

Continued to make giant strides toward a seemingly inevitable Springbok debut. Ruled the skies and was a marauder in the tight loose. Has also developed a knack for delivering match-winning moments, like a buzzer-beating shooter in the NBA. He was the hero in Cape Town, where one final lineout steal in his own half sealed the win for a 14-man Bulls team and he did it again in the return fixture when he drove over for the decisive try in injury time.

4: Ruben Schoeman (Lions)

Both the enforcer and workhorse of the Lions tight five. Did yeoman’s work week in and week out, often doubling the output you’d expect from a second-rower. Especially in terms of physicality, Schoeman was huge. Was the main source of go-forward ball in the trenches, a power player in the rucks, mauls and lineouts, plus he put his hand up to take over “The Bone Collector” mantle from Willem Alberts with some massive hits.

3: Thomas du Toit (Sharks)

Had strong competition in Carlu Sadie, the Lions’ scrummaging beast, and Trevor Nyakane, who played his role of impact player to perfection back from injury for the Bulls. Du Toit was a combination of the two, powerful at scrum time and a human avalanche of a ball-carrier.

2: Johan Grobbelaar (Bulls)

Unmissable with his red scrum cap and high work rate. The Bulls hooker was accurate in the lineouts for the most part, a real maul menace, scoring a few tries including a crucial double at home against the Stormers, and was a feature at ruck time, where he cleaned out and contested with mongrel.

1: Ox Nche (Sharks)

Colossal and consistent. The mobile man-mountain and powerful scrummager played himself back into the Springbok squad, three years after his only Test appearance against Wales in Washington DC. Made a big statement when he mauled Frans Malherbe at a wet Kings Park, where he splashed over for a try, too, while he also showed his silky hands, most memorably when he sparked a try for prop partner Du Toit against the Lions.

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