It should come as no surprise that the title-clinching Bulls provide the bulk of our Super Rugby Unlocked Team of the Tournament, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
With the crunch clash between the second-placed Stormers and third-placed Sharks being called off in line with Covid-19 protocols, the tournament ended on a whimper rather than a bang at the weekend.
It was, nevertheless, mission accomplished for Jake White and his charges. Their 21-5 win over the Pumas at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday saw the Pretoria side break a decade-long trophy drought and secure a fourth Super Rugby title.
Fully deserved of the domestic silverware, the Bulls won five of their six matches, including thumping their nearest title challenges from Cape Town and Durban. As a result, seven Bulls stars have been included in our Team of the Tournament.
Three Sharks and two Stormers cracked the nod, along with two Cheetahs, who finished their campaign on a positive note with a 28-9 win over neighbours Griquas, who were unlucky not to claim a win after coming within a hair’s breadth of upsetting both the Stormers and Sharks. Livewire scrumhalf Zak Burger was the Kimberley side’s talisman and rounds off our team.
15: Warrick Gelant (Stormers) – Player of the Tournament
The Stormers’ marquee signing was simply sensational, bringing a new dimension to the Cape side. His excellent kicking with both feet is invaluable and unrivalled and he could hardly be contained, both as a strike runner and playmaker. Beat a tournament-best 19 defenders and also led the tournament in offloads (15). What’s more, he made the second-most carries (50) and fourth-most metres (265). Far and away the best fullback on display and also earns the honour of being our Player of the Tournament.
14: Malcolm Jaer (Cheetahs)
Hit the ground running with a hat-trick in the Cheetahs’ opening encounter against the Pumas and was one of the stars of the Bloemfontein side’s 19-17 win over the Bulls, the only blemish on the men from Pretoria’s record. Elusive and electric, Jaer boasts the most clean breaks of the tournament, having dissected the defence on eight occasions.
13: Stedman Gans (Bulls)
The Blitzbok captain proved he’s just as potent in the 15-man code as he is on the Sevens circuit. Finished as the tournament’s top try-scorer with five five-pointers – the sensational solo score against the Sharks being the pick of the bunch. Made six clean breaks (joint-seventh overall) and stood firm on defence, which is the true measuring stick of a Sevens star’s ability to make a successful transition to the 15-man game.
12: Marius Louw (Sharks)
Sean Everitt will be ecstatic with the way Louw filled the giant shoes of Andre Esterhuizen. The shorter and stockier midfielder was a powerful and relentless battering ram that provided the necessary go-forward ball and won several turnovers on the deck. The iron horse of the Sharks, he led them in four key categories – carries (39, fifth overall), defenders beaten (15, joint-second overall), offloads (5, joint-sixth overall) and tackles (38, joint-fourth overall).
11: Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls)
The champion’s revelation of the tournament. Made the most of every opportunity with his blistering pace and flair, and was rock-solid on defence. Based on this form, the Blitzbok flyer has a bright future in the 15-man game. Bagged two tries, made seven clean breaks (joint-second overall) and earned an impressive 215 metres (seventh overall, despite being outside of the top 10 in carries).
10: Curwin Bosch (Sharks)
Bankable Bosch produced the most consistently commanding performances of the flyhalves, finished as the tournament’s top points scorer with 63 and was a match-winner twice over (against the Cheetahs and Griquas). Punished teams with his booming boot – a weapon that sets him apart from the rest – not only off the tee but in territorial terms as well. Scooped two Man of the Match awards in a row, the most impressive being the masterclass against the Cheetahs, which he capped off with two monster penalties.
9: Zak Burger (Griquas)
The heartbeat of the Kimberley side. Gave Griquas direction – both in terms of his leadership abilities and tactical nous – energy, unpredictability (joint-seventh overall with six clean breaks and 10th overall with 204 metres) and firepower. Kicked off the competition with a Man of the Match performance at Loftus and maintained that fantastic form throughout, mostly behind a struggling pack to boot.
8: Duane Vermeulen (Bulls)
The talisman of the triumphant Bulls. Elevated the Pretoria side to another level in his pursuit of perfection at every training session and led from the front on game days – physically imposing his will both with and without the ball, making several turnovers and intelligent decisions as captain. His Man of the Match performance against the Sharks was just beastly.
7: Andisa Ntsila (Cheetahs)
With such great back-row depth in South Africa, it’s both surprising and disappointing that there was no clear standout blindside flank. Most had their moments, but none were able to sustain their efforts for the duration of the tournament. With that in mind, we’re shifting and rewarding the hard-working Cheetahs fetcher with the No.7 jersey. Highly influential every time out, Ntsila made the second-most tackles (40) and several turnovers.
6: Marco van Staden (Bulls)
The best openside flank of the competition by a country mile and a strong contender for Player of the Tournament honours. Made a strong case for a Springbok recall with one standout showing after the other, pouncing on turnovers like a rabid jackal of prey. Robust and relentless, he was the Bulls’ most productive ball carrier (48, third overall) and the tournament’s top tackler with 45 hits.
5: Ruan Nortje (Bulls)
His stocks skyrocketed even higher than his towering lineout play. Dominated the set-piece with a tournament-best 25 takes. A perfect mix of power, hard-nosed physicality and skill, the former Junior Springbok showed he has everything it takes to excel at Test level and is only going to get better. Insatiable appetite on defence, ranking joint-10th with 34 hits, and was terrific in tandem with…
4: Jason Jenkins (Bulls)
A mainstay in our weekly team, Jenkins was a tour de force. Returned to Loftus on a short-term loan deal to reignite his Springbok career and couldn’t have made a bigger statement. A punishing enforcer (crucially, with controlled aggression), strong in the set pieces and mauls, made key plays at key times (including sparking a timely try for Nortje against Griquas) and won a few turnovers. Returned to Japan after Round Five and still managed the joint-second-most lineout takes (24).
3: Frans Malherbe (Stormers)
Much was made of his lockdown ‘boep’ but the extra kilograms did not affect his world-class work rate, with the mobile Malherbe making 36 tackles – the most by a front-rower and eighth-most overall. A tighthead, of course, is primarily judged on his scrummaging and the Stormers brute proved once again that he’s in a class of his own in the dark art. The dominant display against the Cheetahs, in particular, was beautiful in its brutality, and will probably cause Charles Marais sleepless nights for years to come.
2: Johan Grobbelaar (Bulls)
Like at No.7, none of the hookers stood out. This is primarily because most teams employed a rotation policy at No.2. Under White, the Bulls were always going to put a renewed focus on their set pieces and their lineout was the best by far. Grobbelaar flew under the radar somewhat, but his radar was spot on. With three starts (Corniel Els started twice and Joe van Zyl once), he was a big reason behind his team’s remarkable 93.9% lineout success rate.
1: Ox Nche (Sharks)
Was called on to do yeoman work and delivered in spades. It’s the sheer amount of work and game time he had to put in, and the excellent consistency of his performances week-in and week-out, that saw the Sharks star edge Steven Kitshoff in a tremendous two-horse race. Great at scrum time, strong with ball in hand and industrious on defence.