The prodigious pair of Johan Grobbelaar and Damian Willemse form the pillars of our South African United Rugby Championship Team of the Week, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The Bulls sent shockwaves across Europe when they scored a famous 27-26 victory over much-vaunted Leinster in Dublin on Friday night, while the Stormers snatched a thrilling 17-15 win over Ulster with a converted try in injury time at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon to set up an all-South African Rugby final.
Eight players who were pivotal to the Bulls’ epic triumph have been included in our team, with a quartet of Stormers stars earning selection for their roles in the last-gasp victory.
15: Canan Moodie (Bulls)
Botched try aside, the teenager was brilliant. Great under the high ball, made a big early tackle and an even bigger one on Jimmy O’Brien in the 37th minute. Backed himself on attack, even putting David Kriel into space with an audacious offload, and seamlessly switched to the wing after Kriel limped off.
14: Seabelo Senatla (Stormers)
Very strong 50th outing. Worked his socks off and came up huge on defence, utilising his pace to reel in Billy Burns and made a second try-saving tackle on Rob Herring in the 56th minute. Good in the air and almost sparked a try with a chip and chase in his only real attacking opportunity.
13: Cornal Hendricks (Bulls)
An unsung hero on defence, organising the backline’s shape with poise, shoring up his channel and constantly communicating to ensure all bases are covered. The veteran’s experience in high-pressure games was invaluable in this regard.
12: Damian Willemse (Stormers)
A heroic Man of the Match performance from a man who was expected to miss the game due to an elbow injury. Supremely gutsy and skillful, took it upon himself to inspire a depleted-looking side with a 62nd-minute breakdown penalty, his second on the day. Phenomenal first step explosion to punch dents in the defence, slick hands, a classy grubber to pin Ulster in their 22 and made a team-high nine tackles.
11: Madosh Tambwe (Bulls)
A walk-in despite having a rare off day as he didn’t have any real competition with Lionel Zas injured early on and scrumhalf Godlen Masimla doing his best as cover but understandably battling with positional play on the wing. Where Tambwe did make an impact was in the air, where his athleticism saw him field kicks and retain possession.
10: Manie Libbok (Stormers)
Did he falter for most of the match? Absolutely. But when it mattered most, he put Warrick Gelant over in the left corner with an excellent long pass and showed nerves of steel to slot the match-winning conversion.
9: Zak Burger (Bulls)
One of the rising stars who seized the day and put himself on the global map. Ripped a turnover on his 5m line when the Bulls were under siege early on, launched pinpoint contestable kicks and maximised momentum with brilliant reads and touches such as the bullet ball for Moodie that should’ve been a try and the pop to Marcell Coetzee for his try.
8: Elrigh Louw (Bulls)
The toughest call of the weekend as Evan Roos was ever-impressive. However, Louw was a force of nature that ripped through the RDS Arena, his tackle bust and dart in the build-up to the disallowed try summing up his showcase of dominance. Led the team in successful carries (9) and defenders beaten (4), plus he delivered a deft sleight of hand for Johan Grobbelaar to rumble over.
7: Arno Botha (Bulls)
A huge game by the underappreciated veteran. Full of fire, unleashing controlled chaos on both sides of the ball. Never stopped bringing the heat, carried hard and direct, and pounced on scraps. Pipped Hacjivah Dayimani, who evaded a few defenders with fleet footwork and poached a lineout.
6: Marcell Coetzee (Bulls)
A legendary performance by the ultra-passionate Bulls captain. Led by example, thundering into contact and over the gain line, scored one of his team’s two tries, offloaded, and made a team-high 15 tackles. On top of that, he was a calming presence in the cauldron, controlling his troops with his experience of the fast-changing Irish conditions and elite European rugby.
5: Ruan Nortje (Bulls)
The URC’s newly-minted Ironman was exactly that, turning in a titanic, tireless outing. A man possessed, popping up everywhere and fighting for every inch to the point that he played himself out of his taped headband. Commanding in the lineouts, where he made a key steal on his 5m line in the 64th minute.
4: Walt Steenkamp (Bulls)
The emerging giant’s finest hour yet. Owned Leinster in a lineout masterclass that won’t soon be forgotten, a steal in his 22 in the 27th minute and another turnover-forcing intervention in the 54th minute sticking out. Got stuck in as enforcer as well, contributing heavily to the Bulls’ physical dominance.
3: Mornay Smith (Bulls)
He, too, had his best game to date. Rose to the occasion at scrum time, where he gave veteran Irish international Andrew Porter all he could handle and got the reward he should’ve gotten in the first half when he won a penalty in the 50th minute.
2: Johan Grobbelaar- Player Of The Week (Bulls)
Colossal all season but this world-class Man of the Match performance will be remembered as the coming of age of terrific talent. Absolutely sensational in every aspect, winning three breakdown penalties, showing excellent tackle fight, and scoring a try. Spot on with his lineout throwing and industrious on defence.
1: Steven Kitshoff (Stormers)
Left everything out on the field, including his blood. A big factor at the breakdown, winning a penalty in the 24th minute and counter-rucking with a vengeance. Similarly influential in the mauls, rock-solid in the scrums, inspired a try-scoring opportunity with a barnstorming carry, and went above and beyond in his attempt to get through to referee Mike Adamson.