Stormers stars lead the way in our South African United Rugby Championship Team of the Week, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Capetonians broke their duck in their final match on tour as they slew the Dragons 24-10 in Newport on Friday night. At the same time, the Lions put up a good fight in the first half of their clash with Ulster in Belfast but dropped off in the second, which saw the Irish outfit seal a 26-10 win.
It was a frustrating and ultimately fruitless Saturday for the Bulls and the Sharks, the men from Pretoria going down 17-10 to Edinburgh at the DAM Health Stadium and the Durbanites succumbing 23-17 to Cardiff at Arms Park.
As the lone local team to pick up a victory in Round Four, the Stormers have six representatives in our side. There are five Lions in the line-up while the Bulls and Sharks each have a pair of standouts in the mix.
15: Warrick Gelant (Stormers)
Sent an emphatic message to the Springbok selectors that he’s ready for his recall. The most energetic, electrifying, and skilful player at Rodney Parade. Dominated the kicking battle with both feet, highlighted by the 50:22 off his right that led to the opening points. Eluded and unrivalled five defenders, unleashed Ed will van der Merwe with a slick no-look pass and created his team’s first try with a clever grubber, while his defensive efforts included a try-saving intervention in the 21st minute.
14: Stean Pienaar (Lion)
A complete performance by the compact winger. Safely fielded up-and-under and bounced off defenders like a pinball, effortlessly stepped his man to score the Lions’ solitary try, and made 33 meters in all. Flawless and busy on defence, putting in 11 tackles, and was a nuisance at the rucks to edge Bull’s flyer Madosh Tambwe.
13: Jeremy Ward (Sharks)
Another frustrating round for the outside centres who once again hardly had a chance to run with the ball. Ward was the hardest worker on defence; aside from shoring up his cannel, he patrolled the sidelines where he made an excellent low tackle on Aled Summerhill. Also saved the day when Curwin Bosch bungled his attempt at taking a high bomb.
12: Burger Odendaal (Lions)
Another week, another captain’s innings. Led from the front with the most successful carries (7) – which saw him earn 27 hard meters – and on defence, making all 15 of his tackles, a joint team-high, one of which saved a certain try and another resulted in a turnover.
11: Lionel Zas (Stormers)
A hard worker and scorer of both of the Stormers’ tries. Made his presence known early when he bashed over the gain line with his first carry, was in sync with Gelant all evening, which allowed him to run onto his fullback’s grubber to score his first try and did it all on his own for his second, hoofing the ball from inside his 22, chasing hard, pouncing on the loose ball after a Dragons balls up and finishing fantastically.
10: Manie Libbok (Stormers)
The only flyhalf who showed some creativity on the attack, employing offloads and grubbers in his quest to unlock the Dragons’ defence. Fundamentally and tactically sound and kept the scoreboard ticking, contributing 14 points off the tee.
9: Andre Warner (Lions)
A second successive busy and brave defensive display. Poked his head into some dark places and swept superbly to defuse danger, a good low tackle on No.8 David McCann and a try-saving double team effort with Sibusiso Sangweni on lock Alan O’Connor among his key contributions. Got good distance with his clearance kicks and his service was crisp.
8: Evan Roos (Stormers)
Tireless, tenacious, and terrifying. Carried in trademark fashion, which can perhaps best be compared to a dog with a bone. So strong on his feet; drove and drove in contact to gain extra ground that often forced the Dragons to commit more than one tackler on him. The result? An unrivaled 69 running meters. A powerful final statement ahead of the Springbok squad announcement on Tuesday.
7: Vincent Tshituka (Lions)
He was a consistent performer for the Lions like Odendaal and matched his captain with a team-high 15 hits. The pride of Johannesburg’s most effective ball-carrying forward, he did the hard work in heavy traffic to set the platform for their only try, won a welcome turnover near his 22 in the 25th minute, and featured in the lineouts as well.
6: Sibusiso Sangweni (Lions)
Brought the energy, physicality, and accuracy in his first start. The textbook breakdown penalty he won in his 22 in the ninth minute was an early sign of things to come. Made 10 tackles at a 100% clip including a try-saving stop on Billy Burns and showed good awareness and handling skills to catch a speculative offload from Divan Rossouw.
5: Ruan Nortje (Bulls)
A prolific presence all-around. His 15 tackles were the most by a Bulls player, while he also made a few solid carries and produced a clutch lineout steal five meters from his try line in the 18th minute.
4: Ruben van Heerden (Sharks)
Like Nortje, the Sharks second-rower worked his socks off, making a team-high 12 tackles. Packed a punch on both sides of the ball, his strength helping the Durbanites in a big way when he held up opposite number Seb Davies to win a maul turnover near the visitors’ try line.
3: Neethling Fouche (Stormers)
Slow poison personified. After softening up the hosts in the first half, the Stormers had pure dominance at scrum time in the second stanza and it was Fouche who led the charge. His output in open play was also pleasing. Pipped Thomas du Toit, whose efforts were rewarded with a try.
2: Bismarck du Plessis (Bulls)
Irrepressible overall and insatiable at the breakdown, where he looked like the predator he was in his prime. The 37-year-old won no less than four penalties, the second earning the Bulls their first three points and the fourth in his 22 shortly after half-time. Off-target with an early throw-in but on the mark from thereon out, made a crucial tackle on Charlie Shiel and almost whipped up a 50:22.
1: Brok Harris (Stormers)
A stalwart with 133 caps for the Dragons, he received a heart-warming hero’s welcome when he ran out onto his old stomping ground and played with a raging fire in his belly. Took no prisoners at scrum time and made several smashing tackles.