Bulls players made the biggest impression as the 2021 South African rugby season got underway at the weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The first round of Kick-Off Pools matches started with the Lions pipping the Pumas 32-28 in a back-and-forth catfight in Johannesburg on Friday night.
The Cheetahs played spoilers on Saturday, edging the Stormers 34-33 in their first fixture at their new home Cape Town Stadium, while Sunday saw the Bulls blow away the Eastern Province Elephants 87-10 in Pretoria and the Sharks down Griquas 35-10 in Durban.
There are five Bulls in our Team of the Week as well as a trio of Sharks and Cheetahs. Two Lions made the line-up, while the Stormers and Pumas have one representative apiece.
15: Aphelele Fassi (Sharks)
A coin toss between the Sharks fullback and Dan Kriel, while Clayton Blommetjies was a fire starter with his playmaking prowess. Kriel was class, scoring a clever try and producing a beautiful break and pass to send Stravino Jacobs away for his second try. Fassi also doubled up with a try and try-assist when the Durbanites really needed it, which is why he won out.
14: Werner Kok (Sharks)
The Sevens star’s extreme energy saw him stave off challengers Edwill van der Merwe, who sparked an electrifying end-to-end try, and Madosh Tambwe. Kok’s work rate was superhuman. He had the intensity of a shark smelling blood in the water and never relented. Popped up everywhere, made storming runs down the touchline and showcased great vision and skill to send Thaakir Abrahams over with a perfect pass.
13: Jeremy Ward (Sharks)
Captain fantastic! In case anyone needed reminding, Ward started the 2021 season by proving why he’s one of the most feared hitmen in South African rugby as he damn-near broke James Verity-Amm in half. Was all over Griquas, including making a back-tracking tackle to force a turnover that ended with Fassi dotting down. Equally prolific on attack, making a few dangerous breaks before limping off on the hour-mark.
12: Frans Steyn (Cheetahs)
A meat and potatoes performance by the veteran. Nothing flashy, but first and foremost, produced perfect place-kicking (6/6) to rack up 14 points and eke out victory for the visitors. Sound tactical kicking, got great distance with penalty kicks to the corners and made a few bruising carries and big hits, particularly the powerful pounce on poor Abner van Reenen.
11: Rosko Specman (Cheetahs) – Player of the Week
A game changer! Redeemed himself and then some after being bumped off by Van der Merwe with a highlight reel hat-trick that changed the complexion of the Cape Town Stadium showdown. Scintillating speed to score his first, pure “Specmagic” for the second, dancing and dummying his way over (watch below), and stepped off his left foot to leave defenders for dead to complete his treble.
10: Tiaan Swanepoel (Lions)
No stranger to the flyhalf role coming through the ranks, but after a stellar maiden Currie Cup campaign at fullback, Swanepoel showed in his first start in the Lions No.10 jersey what a key player he’s going to be for the Johannesburg side in the Rainbow Cup and beyond. Won it for the hosts with his accurate and booming boot, slotting 8/9 for a personal tally of 22 points, while the Pumas missed half of their shots at goal.
9: Ruan Pienaar (Cheetahs)
Embrose Papier was ever-present, setting up two tries and making a try-saving tackle on Qeutyne Oerson. Then there’s Morné van den Berg, who was a constant threat and whose opportunistic try just before half-time was a turning point. However, the returning Pienaar played the closer role to perfection. The super-sub took ownership and helped steer his side over the line with great game-management.
8: WJ Steenkamp (Bulls)
Phepsi Buthelezi and Willie Engelbrecht made strong cases but Steenkamp produced a performance regular Bulls captain and No.8 Duane Vermeulen would’ve been proud of. Immense in all areas; a rock at the restarts (like Vermeulen) and a powerful and skilful ball-carrier, whose outstanding offload was pivotal in Marnus Potgieter’s try. Made 10 tackles and stole a lineout in his 22 with two minutes left on the clock.
7: Roelof Smit (Lions)
The former Springbok has been beset with injury and limped off again in the 75th minute, bringing a worrying end to a cracking comeback. Was a dominant figure on defence – making a dozen tackles – influential at the breakdown and made some powerful carries. Barnstorming Thembelani Bholi, who steamrolled George Whitehead and Gideon van der Merwe, and roaming runner Tim Agaba, who was rewarded with a try, also shone.
6: Nizaam Carr (Bulls)
Bagged a brace in a commanding captain’s innings. Relished the opportunity to play a full 80 minutes and maintained a magnificent output throughout, making a joint-team-high 11 tackles. Worked hard off the ball to be a support runner as highlighted when he hustled to score his second try and when he streaked away and sent Keagan Johannes off for his second score. Strong in contact and counter-rucked well.
5: Janko Swanepoel (Bulls)
Worked wonderfully in tandem with Jan Uys. Tough-as-nails, tenacious and a physical force at the gain line and rucks and mauls. Had a key hand in Marco Jansen van Vuren’s try as well. Pumas captain Pieter van Vuuren also caught the eye with strong carries and a lineout steal.
4: Jan Uys (Bulls)
Met Uys, ja! Just a towering performance. The Bulls ruled the lineouts and Uys’ athleticism and anticipation was the main reason why. Stole two of the Elephants’ lineouts in the first 10 minutes, the second in his 22, and made it three in the 26th minute. Good in general play as well, making 10 tackles and was influential in the hosts’ 12th and final try.
3: Neethling Fouché (Stormers)
Titanic! Looked like a world-beater as he chewed up and spat out Schalk Ferreira. As dominant of a display as you get, he won three first-half scrum penalties, two of which were converted, a fourth in the 48th minute and led the penalty try train two minutes later.
2: Joe van Zyl (Bulls)
Solid in the set-pieces, but his output in open play was what impressed me the most about his performance. The best example of his top-class work rate was when he pounced on a loose ball and then had the presence of mind to quickly ship the ball to Kriel who went on to score. Scored a try himself.
1: Morgan Naudé (Pumas)
The Pumas feasted on their feline foes at scrum time, which allowed them to dictate terms in the first half. Naudé was the alpha male, hitting hard and low to win three penalties in the set-piece, the first of which saw the visitors draw first blood from the ensuing lineout.