The Cheetahs lead the charge in our Currie Cup Team of the Week after a most unusual weekend in South African rugby, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
For the first time ever, players had to battle it out on Boxing Day instead of lazing around on a beach or at home with loved ones, as usual, this after training on Christmas of all days
Western Province prevailed as expected, but the visiting Griquas showed typical fighting spirit. It was mission accomplished for the hosts who claimed a full five-point haul in their 34-17 bonus-point victory to shoot up to second place on the log.
The other encounter scheduled for Boxing Day, the Jukskei Derby at Loftus, was postponed to Wednesday, 6 January 2021 due to Covid-19 infections in the log-leading Bulls’ camp.
In another rarity, supporters were treated to Sunday rugby, which saw the Cheetahs – despite being down to 13 men at one stage – clinch a dominant 37-10 bonus-point win over the Sharks. The blowout in Bloemfontein kept the Free Staters’ hopes of retaining their title alive and earned seven of their players places in our side.
Six Capetonians cracked the nod, with Griquas and the Sharks each having one representative in our team.
15: Clayton Blommetjies (Cheetahs)
Hanging kick-off sparked a 28-second try and this valuable added skill continued to trouble the Sharks. Created the bonus-point try with a scintillating show and go and was Johnny on the spot from a quick tap by Ruben de Haas to form the link in Rayno Smith’s score. Varied his play well to keep the visitors guessing.
14: Rayno Smith (Cheetahs)
A super-sub of note. Was champing at the bit after a lengthy layoff and was lethal every time he touched the ball. Made a couple of breaks, crossed the whitewash and had a second dot down disallowed after Jeandré Rudolph’s pass was ruled to have drifted forward. Good on defence, too, mopping up a dicey situation in-goal to clear the line and ripping the ball in a tackle later on.
13: Dan du Plessis (Western Province)
Allowed to spread his wings and soared like an eagle, especially in the first half. Glided through with a beautiful break (the first of the game), then ran a great line and showed his speed to streak in for his controversial try (the pass from his centre partner Rikus Pretorius looked forward).
12: Frans Steyn (Cheetahs) – Player of the Week
Punished the Sharks from pillar to post, both with ball in hand and with his booming boot. Smashed over the gain line at will, one of his strong carries providing the momentum for his team’s second try while he shirked off Jeremy Ward with ease on another occasion. A perfect 7/7 off the tee for 17 points, including slotting a trademark monster penalty. Got great distance with his numerous line drives to pin the visitors in their half and even turned the ball over on the floor.
11: Yaw Penxe (Sharks)
Shone in a Sharks side that failed to show up in Bloemfontein. Made great defensive reads, scoring his team’s only try with an intercept and sacking Rosko Specman with a spot tackle. Exhibited explosive acceleration to cut clean through the Cheetahs’ line and looked for work, streaking down the right wing and offloading to Werner Kok, which pressured Specman into an early tackle that earned him 10 minutes in the bin.
10: Tim Swiel (Western Province)
Nothing flashy but, then, he’s been brought in to give Province structure and direction and that’s what he did. Wouldn’t have been satisfied with his place-kicking, but did add nine points to the tally. Good in the air when he acted as sweeper at the back. Reinhardt Fortuin was solid but soured his performance with a cynical yellow card offence (deliberate knockdown).
9: Zak Burger (Griquas)
Exuded heart and skill in equal measure did the inspirational Griquas captain, who picked himself up after a hard hit by Jaco Coetzee threatened to take him out of the equation early on. Instead, he outplayed opposite number Herschel Jantjies. Was dangerous around the fringes of the ruck, creating line breaks and a top try for Eduan Keyter with darts and pop passes (time-stamped below). Caused more problems with a quick tap.
8: Jeandré Rudolph (Cheetahs)
A real workhorse, a tackling Trojan rewarded with the Man of the Match award. Bossed the breakdown, where he won vital turnovers. Made the most crucial play of the game when he saved the day by swimming through the middle of the maul and clamping on for a turnover on his try line with the hosts down to 13 men.
7: Andisa Ntsila (Cheetahs)
With none of the openside flankers separating themselves from the pack and Ntsila having a blinder, we decided to make a rare switch and reward him with a place in our team. Worked his socks off, played a key role in the opening try with a surging run, which set the tone for his barnstorming performance.
6: Jaco Coetzee (Western Province)
With Siya Kolisi being withdrawn at the last minute due to Covid-19 protocols, Coetzee kicked the door down in the No.6 jersey. Full of energy and physicality, he made a phenomenal 17 tackles. Won a number of turnovers, including two in Province’s 22 – the one on the stroke of half-time being particularly timely. Ever present and alert to pounce on the ball and force his way over with a strong leg drive.
5: JD Schickerling (Western Province)
A monster truck of a lock, just manhandling ball-carriers. An enforcer with endless energy, he kept coming and coming and made 11 hits in the end. Strong in the maul as well, where he seized a turnover with superior technique and upper body strength.
4: Carl Wegner (Cheetahs)
The Alun Wyn Jones of the Cheetahs. Striking similarities to the record-breaking Welsh captain in terms of his leadership style, world-class work rate and skillset. Consistently excellent and led from the front again, rumbling over for the opening try after just 28 seconds and never relented. Ruled the lineouts.
3: Frans Malherbe (Western Province)
One slip aside, he completely dominated in the scrums yet again, especially during a destructive third quarter. Whether it was winning pressure-relieving penalties in his 22 or momentum-building bullying that led to tries, Malherbe’s mastery of the dark arts laid the foundation for victory. Made 10 tackles, too.
2: Bongi Mbonambi (Western Province)
Bullish on Boxing Day. Played with a burning desire – the exact opposite to phoning it in against the winless visitors, even letting out a roar after making a textbook turnover at the breakdown. That fire was further evident when he bear-crawled over for his second try, making Griquas pay for not hanging on in contact (time-stamped below). Flawless in the set pieces, physical on defence – matching Malherbe’s 10 tackles – and a deserved Man of the Match.
1: Boan Venter (Cheetahs)
Steven Kitshoff was pure class, taking over the captaincy and setting an excellent example as a human roadblock, stopping runners left and right (14 tackles in all). Pummelled poor John-Roy Jenkinson at scrum time, winning a number of penalties, and broke a tackle in the attacking 22 in one of his three carries. However, he was pipped by Venter, who spearheaded the Cheetahs’ scrum dominance and finished off exceptionally well to score the bonus-point try in the final play of the game.