Home teams ruled the roost in the opening round of Super Rugby Unlocked at the weekend and we select the team of the Week for Round 1.
In the first of two matches of Saturday, the Cheetahs made a statement as they ran in eight tries (five in the first half) en route to a 55-31 bonus-point victory over the Pumas in Bloemfontein before the Bulls survived a scare from a passionate Griquas side to pick up a 30-23 win in Pretoria.
The triumphant teams each have four players in our side, with a trio of game Griquas completing our inaugural line-up.
15: Clayton Blommetjies (Cheetahs)
Revelled in the time and space the Pumas gave him (especially with aimless kicks) to rack up 124 metres. Exhibited electrifying playmaking qualities to create three of his team’s tries – first, a slick one-handed offload to put Malcolm Jaer away, a subtle step and offload to a speeding Rosko Specman to score and another quick sidestep and perfect ball for Jaer’s hat-trick try.
14: Daniel Kasende (Griquas)
Jaer finished off like any good wing should en route to his hat-trick. However, the superior work rate and hunger of Kasende was simply special. The Griquas speedster saved what looked like two certain tries, wedging himself under Marco van Staden to hold the ball up and dislodging the ball from Cornal Hendricks’ grasp. Also gave Morné Steyn the old ‘die bus is vol’ treatment.
13: Benhard Janse van Rensburg (Cheetahs)
Lukhanyo Am was superb for the Sharks, with a try-assist and breakdown penalty being the highlights of a polished performance. However, Janse van Rensburg left the Pumas spellbound with an array of silky skills/try assists – a short ball to Blommetjies, a cut out pass to Jaer and the pick of the bunch, a Sonny Bill Williams-like offload to Junior Pokomela after drawing two defenders.
12: Frans Steyn (Cheetahs)
Pure class in his Cheetahs debut. The steak to the backline’s sizzle. The two-time World Cup winner was the general with his unparalleled power and vision. Varied his play perfectly, alternating between trademark hard carries and clever attacking grubbers, two into touch in the Pumas’ 22 and one for Specman to snap up and score. Fired a beautiful bullet skip pass to an unmarked William Small-Smith to stroll in and won a memorable breakdown penalty through positioning and pure power.
11: Rosko Specman (Cheetahs)
Specmagic ran wild in Bloemfontein, with the former Blitzbok racking up an unrivalled 154 metres (beating two defenders and making three clean breaks) and bagging a brace before a hamstring niggle cut his afternoon short after the first half. Synced sensationally with Blommetjies, running a brilliant angle to slice clean through and easily stepped the last man for his second try. Crossed the whitewash untouched after another perfectly-timed dart but gifted Ruan Pienaar a try instead of completing his hat-trick.
10: Curwin Bosch (Sharks)
It wasn’t the most assured of starts from the flyhalves across the board. Bosch’s boot proved to be the difference in Durban as he slotted four penalties and a conversion. The value of the 23-year-old’s booming boot was underlined when he nailed what ended up being a crucial 50m kick while his high bombs were well-weighted and caused the Lions problems.
9: Zak Burger (Griquas)
Morné van den Berg took his opportunity with both hands when he replaced Dillon Smit early on, bringing plenty of energy to the Lions, while Pienaar shifted gears like Lewis Hamilton to leave the Pumas for dead. The honours belong to Burger, though, who stoked Griquas’ fire and put himself on the map with a Man of the Match performance.
8: Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks)
Bagged the Man of the Match award off the back of a fantastic first-half performance. Galloped like a freed wild horse, running for a match-high 68 metres in eight carries while making two clean breaks and beating two defenders. Was great on defence, too, making all seven of his tackles and winning a turnover.
7: Phepsi Buthelezi (Sharks)
Edged Vincent Tshituka in an excellent head-to-head battle that bodes well for the future of Springbok rugby. Showed the speed and skill of a backline player, highlighted by a sensational offload to spark the Sharks’ try. Made 49 metres in seven carries (beating two defenders), got stuck in physically and made six tackles (slipping none).
6: Marco van Staden (Bulls)
James Venter had a good defensive display for the Sharks, making a round-high 14 tackles and winning a crucial turnover 5m from his tryline just before half-time. That said, Van Staden played a more prominent role in his team’s triumph, both with and without the ball. Was the Bulls’ busiest ball carrier, breaking five tackles for 33 metres in 13 runs (unlucky not to score a try), made all nine of his tackles, including a thumping hit on Andre Swarts, and won a turnover on the deck.
5: Ruan Nortje (Bulls)
Speaking of hard hits, Nortje put his stamp on Griquas and matched Van Staden with nine tackles in all. His impressive work rate also saw the promising Bulls lock carry the ball up eight times and put him in a position to link up with his second-row partner to score a deserved and vital try before the break.
4: Jason Jenkins (Bulls) – Player of the Week
While Cheetahs ace Carl Wegner was immense in his Man of the Match performance, Jenkins got the nod as he made key plays in a much more tightly contested clash. The Bulls brute erased Griquas’ first-half dominance by sparking a try on the stroke of half-time to level the scores. Won a crucial turnover inside his 22 when the hosts were down to 14 men just after the break, ripped the ball in contact later on and stole a lineout that should’ve resulted in a try for Hendricks.
3: Trevor Nyakane (Bulls)
With the Pretoria side under the pump for three-quarters of the contest, their Springbok tighthead was a shining light upfront, ensuring they had one less problem to deal with. Earned a penalty with his strong, technical scrummaging and when Lizo Gqoboka entered the fray, the Test titans bulldozed their way to a penalty try. Was industrious on defence as well, making seven hits.
2: Hendrik Luus (Griquas)
Flank-turned-hooker Dylan Richardson brought his loose forward output to the front-row (nine tackles) but struggled with his lineout throwing and spilt a quick 22-metre restart, which ultimately cost the Sharks a try. Corniel Els made 10 tackles for the Bulls but it was Luus who produced the most complete performance. Was good in the set-pieces, made eight carries, five tackles and most tellingly, was the driving force behind Griquas’ breakdown dominance with no less than three steals.
1: Ox Nche (Sharks)
Impressed in all areas. Strong at scrum time, effective with ball in hand and worked hard on defence. Made a few barnstorming runs in heavy traffic, twice breaking first-time tackles to earn 14 metres in four carries, made eight tackles – bettered only by Venter (14), Marius Louw (11) and Richardson (9) – and clamped onto the ball to win a turnover.