A variety of players hit 2021 running and have been rewarded with places in our Currie Cup Team of the Week, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Lions, Western Province and Sharks ushered in the new year with wins in the penultimate round of the regular season on Saturday, which sealed their places in the semi-finals along with the table-topping Bulls, who had a bye.
Kicking off Round Six, the Lions continued their unbeaten run, however, they were made to work hard by a passionate Pumas side in Nelspruit. Trailing 17-13 at half-time, the visitors took control in the second stanza to come away with a 33-25 win in an entertaining encounter.
A nailbiter in Bloemfontein saw Western Province flyhalf Tim Swiel break Cheetahs hearts as he slotted a last-gasp penalty to snatch a 31-29 victory, which cruelly dashed the defending champions’ hopes of a repeat. With the dramatic win, the Cape side find themselves in second place (35) via points difference (112 to 56), while the Bulls have a game in hand.
Meanwhile, the Sharks snapped a two-match losing skid with a dominant 47-19 bonus-point win over Griquas in Durban, which sees them finish the round in fourth place behind the Lions on points difference (61 to 30). There are six Sharks stars in our side, three Lions, two Province and Pumas players and one representative each from the Cheetahs and Griquas.
15: Tiaan Swanepoel (Lions)
A point-scoring machine, punishing the Pumas with a mix of strike running and flawless goal-kicking to rack up a personal tally of 22 points. Seamlessly joined the line, scored a brace of tries (his sublime second score time-stamped below) and slotted all four of his kicks at goal, including two long-range efforts. A booming touch-finder and dependable defence rounded off his Man of the Match performance.
14: Werner Kok (Sharks)
The former Blitzbok’s speed, athleticism and desire were on display in Durban. Leapt high and handsome to pluck Curwin Bosch’s crosskick out of the air to score (time-stamped below) and scorched down the ground on a memorable counter-attack that saw him beat two would-be tacklers with fancy footwork before finding Jeremy Ward with a diving offload.
13: Lukhanyo Am (Sharks)
Shook off a considerable amount of remaining rust from his recent injury lay-off as he aims to return to top form ahead of the semi-finals. Hustled hard to beat Tinus de Beer to the ball and dot down after Bosch’s chip (time-stamped below) and made an important tackle on Enver Brandt. Stats reflect a well-rounded performance from the Sharks skipper, who made seven runs and seven hits.
12 Frans Steyn (Cheetahs) – Player of the Week
Like fine wine. Showcased what a one of a kind superstar he is for a second week in a row to once again claim the Man of the Match award and our Player of the Week accolade. Kept the Cheetahs in the game and then nudged them in front with his prodigious boot, slotting all seven of his kicks at goal, including two awe-inspiring 60m bombs (time-stamped below). Added his weight to a maul to help Wilmar Arnoldi crash over for a vital try and executed a few fantastic touch-finders. Emotional post-match interview highlighted the passion the veteran still possesses.
11: Yaw Penxe (Sharks)
The most difficult decision of the week as Penxe, Rosko Specman (both of whom scored tries) and Courtnall Skosan (who ran a good straight line to shape Swanepoel’s second try) were all lethal weapons. Penxe was outstanding across the board and his brilliant piece of finishing, after chasing Aphelele Fassi’s kick (time-stamped below), earned him our left-wing berth.
10: Curwin Bosch (Sharks)
Swiel was the hero for Province at the death but had an ordinary outing, missing three kicks at goal, making an unforced error (forward pass) and was caught offside. Bosch more than made up for a shaky start as he showed his class with the boot, creating Kok and Am’s aforementioned tries with pinpoint kicks and should’ve had a third try-assist but his deft grubber was fumbled. Continued his fine goal-kicking form with six out of seven from the tee.
9: André Warner (Lions)
Pace and precision sum up his showing. Quick to the ruck and with his decision-making and provided snappy service, all of which enabled the Lions to unleash up-tempo offence. Prominent in Swanepoel’s cracking counter-attacking try and executed a classy touch-finder in the Pumas’ 22 after breaking away from a scrum.
8: Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks)
A timely return to form by the roaming Sharks eighthman. Gave Griquas more than they could handle with galloping runs all afternoon (a team-high nine carries) and scored a “classic” as Andy Capostagno called it when he stepped off his right foot to cut inside two defenders and canter in under the posts (time-stamped below). Pumas ace Willie Engelbrecht deserves an honourable mention after scoring a try and poaching three lineouts, the second of which was on his 5m line.
7: Phumzile Maqondwana (Pumas)
Johan du Toit was a Terminator on defence, making a match-high 13 hits in Bloemfontein, but Maqondwana made an even greater impact, on both sides of the ball. The barnstorming Pumas blindside flank was all over the show, making dynamic carries and terrific tackles. The highlight of his performance was the pop pass after being tackled that put Engelbrecht over for a try (time-stamped below).
6: Gideon van der Merwe (Griquas)
An absolute warrior for the winless minnows, playing his heart out despite Griquas getting hammered. Made a round-high 18 tackles, won three turnovers on the deck, ripped the ball out of Ox Nche’s hands in textbook fashion and scored two good tries, emerging out of a maul like a bat out of hell and then reading the Sharks like a book to snatch a quick throw-in out of the air at pace (time-stamped below) to cap an excellent performance.
5: JD Schickerling (Western Province)
Marvin Orie was ever-influential for the Lions, his tackle on Devon Williams setting Swanepoel’s sweeping try in motion. Schickerling retains his place in our team, however, after making two massive plays that allowed Province to snatch the win. The red-hot lock claimed a maul turnover on his 5m line and then stole a lineout on the Cheetahs’ throw with three minutes to go.
4: Darrien Landsberg (Pumas)
Big Junior Springbok JJ van der Mescht threw his weight around for the Sharks, with Capostagno calling him “an earthquake on the move” after a couple of bulldozing counter-rucks in Griquas’ 22. He also pancaked poor Brandt into touch in the final five minutes. Zimbabwe-born Landsberg got the nod, though, for filling injured captain Le Roux Roets’ shoes with aplomb. Bashed over the gain line and broke tackles with powerful charges and good lines and disrupted the Lions’ lineout and mauls.
3: Wiehahn Herbst (Lions)
The well-travelled tighthead enjoyed a dream debut for the Lions, even though he was only afforded 40 minutes. Won a breakdown penalty in the Pumas’ 22, which led to his team’s first try, and stamped his authority on the scrums, where he won a penalty in his 22 and a second that earned the Lions three points. Also contributed three carries and five tackles.
2: Fezokuhle Mbatha (Sharks)
All but one of the hookers, Alandre van Rooyen, crossed the whitewash from the back of driving mauls, but to his credit, the Griquas No.2 got through a ton of work, making 11 tackles. Mbonambi was uncharacteristically wayward, the Springbok hooker guilty of three overthrows. “Fez” was good in all departments and showed the burgeoning talent that made him a Junior Springbok.
1: Steven Kitshoff (Western Province)
Unrivalled at scrum time, where he crushed Khutha Mchunu. Earned his team three points in the 32nd minute, two more penalties in his 22, a hellacious heel against the head on the stroke of half-time that ultimately resulted in a try and the match-winning penalty (time-stamped below). Eight tackles and as many carries, one of which saw him send Rikus Pretorius on a surging run with an outstanding offload.