There were several standout performances from South African players in the all-important final round of the United Rugby Championship regular season, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
As the last local team in action, the Stormers knew exactly what was required of them to be crowned inaugural South African Shield winners and secured the silverware and a home quarter-final with a thrilling 26-21 bonus-point win over the Scarlets in Llanelli on Saturday.
The result saw the Bulls slip to a second-place finish in the local conference, but they too earned a home playoff thanks to their 38-31 bonus-point win over the Ospreys in Swansea on Friday night.
The Sharks, who’d entered the final round as South African Shield leaders, suffered a 24-21 loss to Ulster in Belfast on Friday that cost them the divisional honours and a home quarter-final, while the Lions finished their season on a high with a 21-11 win over the Dragons in Newport on Saturday.
Several players came to the fore, making for tough calls when it came time to select our South African Team of the Week. Making up our side are six Bulls, four Stormers, three Lions, and two Sharks stars.
15: Warrick Gelant (Stormers)
Once again at the heart of the Stormers’ attack, creating try-scoring opportunities with his flair, vision and skill, including sending a skip pass to Ruhan Nel for the last-gasp home playoff-sealing bonus-point try.
14: Seabelo Senatla (Stormers)
Werner Kok brought his renowned energy, Stean Pienaar had good moments but didn’t have the speed to score after he’d intercepted a pass while David Kriel was solid rather than spectacular. Senatla got the nod for his high work rate, which included a terrific kick that found touch in the 22, and he even scrummed down when Deon Fourie was in the bin.
13: Cornal Hendricks (Bulls)- Player Of The Week
An evergreen ace. Came up big for the Bulls, scoring a hat-trick, making more metres (101), clean breaks (3) and beating more defenders (8) than anyone else on the night as well as making a team-high six successful carries in a sterling Man of the Match performance.
12: Damian Willemse (Stormers)
A classy complete performance. Good grubber to pin the Scarlets in their 22, beat a number of defenders with his fast feet and freed up Nel to score shortly after half-time with a brilliant pass.
11: Edwill van der Merwe (Lions)
A showcase of his pace and deceptive power. Scored a beautiful set-piece try, ran over Lewis Jones and made an excellent counter-attacking break, handing off the first man and busting through another tackle. Strong on defence, bundling Rio Dyer into touch at the death.
10: Chris Smith (Bulls)
Made the most of the front foot ball his forwards game him, controlling the game well and ensuring the backline fired. Took on the defence, most notably dummying and stepping inside to slice through for his try, got great distance with his penalty kicks into the corners and finished with a personal tally of 13 points.
9: Grant Williams (Sharks)
An electrifying game-changer. Injected much-needed pace and energy off the bench to take the Sharks offence from Driving Miss Daisy to Fast and the Furious. Sparked two tries, the second with a ridiculous piece of creativity, which he finished himself, and racked up a match-high 94 metres.
8: Evan Roos (Stormers)
The Scarlets’ recurring nightmare. Relentlessly charged at the Welshmen in another statement-making Man of the Match performance. Made 15 metres from the base of the scrum on one occasion, showed his skill with a chicken-wing offload to Hacjivah Dayimani and scored a crucial try just before half-time.
7: Vincent Tshituka (Lions)
Capped a sensational season with yet another Man of the Match performance in his Lions swansong. Ultra-dynamic, bashed and spun out of tackles, made a vital back-tracking tackle and turnover early on and won another breakdown penalty in the 50th minute.
6: Marcell Coetzee (Bulls)
The all-action Bulls captain was at it again, leading by example by outworking the rest. Made a South African round-high 15 tackles, was prominent at the breakdown and powerful with ball in hand.
5: Ruan Nortje (Bulls)
A tower of strength in the set pieces and even more impressive in open play. A prominent ball carrier, skillful distributor, and busy defender, winning a turnover in his 22 and making a try-saving intercept.
4: Ruan Venter (Lions)
An overpowering physical freak. Athletic as well. Won a textbook breakdown penalty in the 24th minute and scored a good try, running a great line and stretching to slam the ball down and put the Lions in the lead five minutes into the second half.
3: Thomas du Toit (Sharks)
The only Sharks forward who won collisions. Consistently powered over the gain line, making a team-high six successful carries despite mostly being fed slow ball and having to work from a standing start. Equally talismanic on defence, leading the way with 11 tackles, taking on added work at the breakdown and winning a scrum penalty.
2: Johan Grobbelaar (Bulls)
He continued his rich vein of form. Clinical with his lineout throwing, front and centre of the dominant scrum, and a grafter in general play. His smooth distribution when peeling off driving mauls was also impressive.
1: Gerhard Steenekamp (Bulls)
His best performance yet, with Jake White remarking at the post-match presser he “wouldn’t have been surprised” if the big man was named Man of the Match. Dominated at scrum time, punched dents in the defence to put the Bulls on the front foot and delivered some surprisingly slick touches.