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SA Super Rugby Team of the Week – Round 3

State of the Franchises: Lions in Super Rugby

17 February 2020, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld

SA Super Rugby Team of the Week – Round 3

After Saturday’s humdinger on the Highveld, Stormers and Lions stars all but make up our South African Super Rugby Team of the Week, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The Stormers needed a dramatic score in the final play of the game to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Ruhan Nel’s try seeing the visitors pip the spirited Lions 33-30 in Johannesburg to maintain their unbeaten run. Much like the thrilling derby, little separated the sides when it came to selection time. Ultimately, eight Stormers and six Lions earned places in our team.

Earlier in the day, the Sharks suffered a slew of injuries and their first defeat of the season, going down 38-22 against the Hurricanes in Wellington. A handful of the gallant Durbanites pushed hard for places in our side, but only one made the cut in the end, while the Bulls had a bye.


The first example of the difficult decisions we were left with. Aphelele Fassi was one of the standout Sharks players at the Cake Tin, racking up a South African round-record 135 metres and eluding eight defenders in 12 runs. Defensively, however, he had an off day and was a key culprit in two of the five tries the coastal team conceded. Coetzee turned in terrific numbers as well – beating an unrivalled 10 tacklers, running for 54 metres and scoring a try while looking for work in nine carries – but more than that, he stepped up as the senior player the young Lions need this season.

Came alive in the second half as Springbok as Stormers great Jean de Villiers said on commentary. In a game that could’ve gone either way, he was the catalyst for 10 of the Stormers’ points. Created and finished a try straight after half-time and showed great composure to run onto a tricky floating pass and pop the pill to Nel in contact for the match-winning try.

Anyone of Nel, Manie Rass or Lukhanyo Am could’ve made the cut. Lions rookie Rass put himself on the map, not only when he waltzed through to create what looked like the decisive try for his centre partner, but as a defensive wall as well, making all 12 of his tackles. Sharks skipper Am provided the early impetus for his team when he intercepted in his 22 and put Madosh Tambwe away for the Durbanites’ first try, and defended well as always. Nel was excellent on attack and defence; he was unpredictable, made a few breaks with some slick footwork and made all five of his tackles. THAT match-winning try at the death tipped the scales in his favour.

Proved a point against his former franchise. Married intelligence with intensity in terms of his running lines and, more importantly, targeting the ball on defence to shutdown offloads. Had limited opportunities on attack but showed glimpses of his skill and power with some deft touches, beating two defenders and hammering down what looked like the game-sealing try. Shaded André Esterhuizen, who looked like a bull in a China shop.

Taking the one opportunity he had – collecting captain Elton Jantjies’ crosskick and darting over for a scintillating try – and keeping mistakes to a minimum (missing just one tackle) saw Skosan crack the nod. Jeremy Ward tried his best out of position after coming on for the injured Makazole Mapimpi, while Seabelo Senatla made some schoolboy errors, particularly early on.

Saturday showed yet again that when Jantjies fires, the Lions fire. The veteran was in vintage form and nearly led his team to a massive upset. The pivot was at his play-making best and his decision-making was magnificent. Great identification of space and execution of his kick pass to Skosan and a clever chip from deep inside his half to almost spark another try. Played flat, constantly challenged defenders and sliced clean through with a scintillating sprint. His goal-kicking was good – especially the clutch long-range effort with two minutes to go – his kicking out of hand was great and he was strong defensively, most notably making a spot tackle on Godlen Masimla to force a knock-on.

Speaking of Masimla, he exhibited the same energy and attacking intent as the injured Herschel Jantjies, who he stood in for. Looked comfortable at this level, although the real test will come against international competition, especially New Zealand teams. Read play well to intercept and canter in for a try, had a good breakaway from a scrum and aside from overcooking one clearance, the rookie’s box-kicking at altitude was solid.

Another toss-up between Augustus and Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Len Massyn, for his part, did incredibly well on the touchline to free up the ball while being gang-tackled for Coetzee to flop over for a try. Notshe has wasted little time establishing himself as the linchpin between the forwards and backs at the Sharks, having another sublime outing. We found it too hard, though, to deny Augustus, who stepped up in a big way in his bid for a regular starting berth. “Trokkie” used all of his might to crash over the tryline and gainline, threw a one-handed offload to put Petersen over for his try, made 12 hits and grabbed two turnovers.

The man is a machine! We know this, but it remains awe-inspiring to watch him maintain a freakish work rate, pace and physicality for the full 80 minutes…especially on the Highveld. He simply does not relent or get tired. Showing once again why he’s the World Rugby Player of the Year, he made 20 tackles – the most by a South African player by a mile – carried the ball seven times and won two lineouts.

The Port Shepstone product continued to make a name for himself at his new franchise. A whirlwind of energy and sheer will in Wellington, his breakdown expertise has already become a critical part of the Sharks’ game. The hungry former Lion latched onto another turnover and was a constant nuisance on the floor. Made all six of his tackles and punched up the ball passionately.

Hyron Andrews pushed for a place in our side, a great run down the touchline and pop back to Esterhuizen being one of the most memorable moments of his performance. Orie, however, showed both will and skill, returning from an HIA after a hard blow without skipping a beat and dominating the lineout battle. Poached two of the Stormers’ lineouts (in the 22nd and 52nd minute respectively), took eight on the Lions’ throw and was mobile across the park.

There was very little in it between Schoeman and Salmaan Moerat. They went tit-for-tat in their head-to-head battle on the Highveld, while Ruben van Heerden also made a case for himself against the Canes. All three were solid rather than spectacular. As the heavy of the lean Lions pack, Schoeman was an unsung but prominent figure against the bigger Stormers bruisers and had to work twice as hard at the gainline, rucks and mauls.

A strong first start of the season by the Harlequins-bound brute. Worked over Dylan Smith at scrum time to spoil the Lions loosehead’s 50th appearance. His two scrum penalties just before half-time swung the momentum in the Stormers’ favour, the second handing the visitors an 18-15 lead going into the break. Mobile on defence as well, making seven hits before hobbling off with an injury in the 47th minute.

Coming off a Man of the Match performance, Ntubeni continued his good early-season form against the Lions. Not the biggest or the strongest hooker around, but he punches above his weight and outworks his opposition more often than not. That was once again the case at Ellis Park, where he made eight tackles and snatched a turnover in an industrious defensive display, which complemented the accuracy of his lineout throwing.

The honour and responsibility of captaining the Cape Town team have poured gasoline on Kitshoff’s inner fire. A strong candidate for Player of the Week, he produced a world-class performance no prop is likely to top in Super Rugby 2020. He earned two scrum penalties (in the 44th and 51st minute respectively), made five carries and was a phenom on defence. Was particularly aggressive, smashing back eight ball-carriers and won an impressive three textbook turnovers on the deck, one of which earned his side three points in the second half.

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