The inaugural champion Stormers dominate our South African United Rugby Championship Team of the Tournament, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Steven Kitshoff and company dug deep in what was an epic all-South African final to claim a thrilling 18-13 win over the Bulls in front of 31,000 fans at Cape Town Stadium at the weekend.
Eight of the Stormers’ brightest stars feature in our team of the season, along with three Bulls, two Sharks and two Lions.
15: Warrick Gelant (Stormers)
One cannot praise him enough for his transformative and mercurial enterprise. The spark that lit the Stormers’ fuse and blazed their trail to the title. The first-ever URC Player of the Month, a game-changer and a match-winner, most memorably creating two tries to inspire an epic 30-26 comeback victory over the Bulls at Loftus. Without question, the pre-eminent playmaker of the season.
14: Seabelo Senatla (Stormers)
After persisting as a rough diamond in the 15-man game for a number of years, the Blitzbok legend reaped the fruits of his labour in the inaugural URC season. Emerged and shone as a polished gem who was as dangerous as ever and finished joint-third on the try-scoring list (9), with a work rate, physicality and dependability on defence to match.
13: Lukhanyo Am (Sharks)
Even with taking a two-month sabbatical smack-bang in the middle of the season to play in Japan, Am was streets ahead of the rest at outside centre as an attacking point of difference and defensive organiser of the highest order, both rooted in his extraordinary vision. His class was as evident in February, when he scooped the Player of the Month award, as it was in his absence when the Sharks instantly lost and couldn’t quite regain their shape until he returned ahead of the final round.
12: Damian Willemse (Stormers)
Central to the Stormers’ success in the defining season of his career. Found and excelled in the position that best suits his unique blend of size, game-breaking and tactical abilities and stepped up as the leader of the backline. As prodigious as his skills are, they were superseded by the incredible heart he showed to push through the pain of an elbow injury in the playoffs. The stuff of legend.
11: Leolin Zas (Stormers)
Enjoyed a remarkable rise. Lightning fast and elusive, he cut defences to shreds and was the tournament’s apex predator with 11 tries. Not only a finisher extraordinaire but created a number of his tries and five-pointers for support runners. Exemplary chaser, regained possession with his timing and athleticism in the air and was reliable on defence. A shame he missed the final through injury.
10: Manie Libbok (Stormers)
The surprise package of the season. A journeyman who found his home and flourished to pilot the Stormers to glorious new heights. Most refreshingly, he did it his way, backing his attacking mindset and skills to help turn the Capetonians into the most synergised side in the league. Kicked them into the final with a clutch match-winning conversion and was the tournament’s top points-scorer (163).
9: Morne van den Berg (Lions)
A livewire brimming with potential. Literally and figuratively an exciting prospect, the man known as “Krappies” enthralled fans and sliced through even the best of defences with his speed and eye for a gap, scoring seven tries whilst having sound fundamentals, not unlike another blonde-haired fan favourite who made a name for himself in the Lions No 9 jersey and went on to have quite the career in the green and gold.
8: Evan Roos (Stormers) – Player of the Tournament
A rampaging revelation. Took the tournament by storm as a Rambo-like berserker to help power the Cape side to the silverware and force his way into the Springbok squad. A runaway freight train with ball in hand, making more successful carries (148) and beating more defenders (56) than any other player to take out the URC Next-Gen, Fans’ and Players’ Player of the Season awards, as well as our Player of the Tournament gong.
7: Vincent Tshituka (Lions)
Never has the term one-man army been more apt to describe the influence of a player at any given time than it is with Tshituka and what he produced for the Lions this season. The star flanker was named Man of the Match in six of the eight games the Johannesburg side won and earned the Player of the Month award for April. His departure to Durban is a huge blow for the Lions.
6: Deon Fourie (Stormers)
Up until Saturday afternoon, Marcell Coetzee had one hand on our No 6 jersey, the Bulls captain having been brilliant in the broader context. He ultimately topped the tournament in offloads (38) and tries (11), finished third in the tackles (202) and fifth in the successful carries (98) categories. However, the tournament’s turnover king Fourie’s heroic Man of the Match performance in the final, bloodied and bruised but immovable over the ball to win three jackals (26 in all) in his 100th appearance for the Stormers, was a Hollywood-esque fairy-tale finish to a fantastic season for the 35-year-old warrior.
5: Ruan Nortje (Bulls)
Speaking of warriors, no one had greater stamina, output and durability than the Bulls’ second-row superstar in the making. The hard-earned winner of the Ironman award racked up the most game time over the course of the regular season (1,394 minutes) and started in all 20 of the Pretoria team’s games. Ruled the lineouts, finishing with the second-most steals in the set-piece (10) and fifth on the tackles (190) list.
4: Walt Steenkamp (Bulls)
Took giant strides to put himself on the map. An agile big man, he was fantastic in the lineouts, pulling off eight steals (joint-third-most), and did the donkey work with aplomb. Prominent in the rough and tumble trenches, winning collisions, clattering into rucks and mauling with intensity.
3: Thomas du Toit (Sharks)
A titanic figure for the Sharks. In the prime of his career, he was the anchor, not just in the scrums but the side as a whole, the one constant whose leadership, consistency and complete contribution were unmatched in the star-studded Sharks squad.
2: Johan Grobbelaar (Bulls)
An all-star in the sense that he not only delivered in every department of positional play with great consistency but scored nine tries (joint-third-most) and acted as a fourth loose forward as well with his work rate on defence and pilfering prowess at the breakdown. His Man of the Match performance against Leinster in the semi-finals was a shining example of his all-around excellence.
1: Steven Kitshoff (Stormers)
Evolved into a world-class captain to lead the Cape franchise to the promised land. Did so by example, getting off the line and jumping back to his feet after making hits like a back-rower, carrying strongly, acting like a red-headed grizzly at the breakdown, being the source of his praised backline’s front foot ball at scrum time and forcing penalties in the set-piece.