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The SA Stars Set To Feature In European Champions And Challenge Cup Finals

Quintin van Jaarsveld shines the spotlight on the South African players set to showcase their skills on European club rugby’s biggest stage in Marseille this weekend.

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Quintin van Jaarsveld shines the spotlight on the South African players set to showcase their skills on European club rugby’s biggest stage in Marseille this weekend.

The iconic Stade Vélodrome is the venue for the European Challenge Cup final on Friday and the European Champions Cup showpiece on Saturday.

The European Challenge Cup final is an all-French rugby affair between Lyon and Toulon, with the latter set to be beefed up by two South African powerhouses. 

The big one on Saturday features a trio of South African stars, all of whom will run out for La Rochelle, who’ll look to topple favourites Leinster.


Wiaan Liebenberg (La Rochelle)

No one will have more motivation to leave everything out on the park than Liebenberg as it’s his last chance at European Champions Cup glory. 

The mobile flanker, who captained the Junior Springboks to their only World Under-20 Championship on home soil back in 2012, in February made the shock announcement that he’ll call time on his career at the end of the season.

Although the 29-year-old never graduated to full-fledged Springbok status like he’d looked destined to as a young prodigy, the boytjie from Brackenfell has enjoyed a successful and lucrative career in France, where he’s been plying his trade since 2015.

He played three seasons for Montpellier before making the move to La Rochelle in 2018 and has been a key figure at the club, bringing motor, muscle and leadership qualities to the pack. 

The current campaign has seen him make 12 carries, 42 metres and 27 tackles in three games. He turned in a solid 67-minute shift in the 20-13 semi-final win over Racing 92, making 25 metres from four carries and six tackles and will no doubt up the ante in the decider.

Raymond Rhule (La Rochelle)

Born in Accra, the winger’s technically a Ghanaian but as a Springbok who came through the ranks in South Africa, he more than deserves a mention.

A member of the 2012 World Under-20 Championship-winning Junior Springbok side led by Liebenberg, Rhule went on to become a try-scoring machine for the Cheetahs and made his Springbok debut against France five years later. He won seven Test caps in 2017 before falling out of favour and into a slump.

He grabbed an opportunity to join Grenoble the following year which would eventually see him catch the eye of La Rochelle coach Ronan O’Gara, who roped him in for the 2020-21 season. It’s a move that’s sparked a remarkable career resurgence and one that’s transformed him into the total package.

Defensively frailties are a thing of the past, so much so that he covers outside centre when needed, while he’s further sharpened his attacking skills to reach the peak of his predatory powers. 

He’s scored three tries – against Bath, the Glasgow Warriors and Bordeaux – made three clean breaks, beat nine defenders and racked up 350 metres in 33 carries while making 18 tackles and eight kicks out of hand in his six European Champions Cup appearances this season.

His semi-final performance saw him dot down but have his try disallowed, make 40 metres from seven carries, three tackles and win a turnover.

Dillyn Leyds (La Rochelle)

A mercurial playmaker, he too was part of the world-beating 2012 class of Junior Springboks and made his Springbok debut on the same day as Rhule. 

The attacking spark of the Stormers for several years, Leyds’ name will live on in lore in the Mother City because of all the magical moments he whipped up, none more memorable than one of the greatest try assists of all-time for SP Marais against the Chiefs in 2017.

With the last of his 10 Test caps coming against Argentina in 2019, he took his Cape Town flair to France the following year and has reached an even higher level of highlight-reel sorcery at La Rochelle. 

His fundamentals are fantastic and while he’s made the No 15 jersey his own, his versatility is a coach’s dream as he’s equally adept on the wing and has experience at pivot as well.

His 2021-22 European Champions Cup contributions include a try against Bath, a clean break and 167 running metres from 18 carries in four outings. A man for the big occasion, he made 92 metres from 12 carries in the semi-final showdown with Racing.


Eben Etzebeth (Toulon)

The Springbok enforcer’s French fling hasn’t been the rosy experience he’d envisioned when he joined Toulon after South Africa’s 2019 World Cup triumph. Nor will it last for as long as he’d signed up for. 

The club’s president Bernard Lemaître earlier this year branded Etzebeth a “handicap” as he’s “expensive, is regularly injured and is often away on Test duty.” 

He was granted an early release from his contract, which was originally set to run until 2023, and will be joining the Sharks at the end of the season. Before touching down in Durban, though, there’s unfinished business to take care of.

Injuries have, indeed, tainted his time at Toulon, but whenever he donned the red jersey, he made a massive impact, even at flank a few times. 

Almost as if to stick it to Lemaître, the herculean second-rower showed out in the 25-16 semi-final win over Saracens, powering his team into the decider with a beautiful display of brutality that included six carries and 12 tackles. 

Expect Etzebeth to go full beast mode in Marseille.

Cornell du Preez (Toulon)

Du Preez’s a prime example of a player who had a perceived ceiling in South African rugby and rose to prominence abroad. As a Junior Springbok in 2011, the hard-working flanker had a bright future, but little did anyone know it would be outside of South Africa.

After cutting his senior teeth at the Southern Kings, he followed Alan Solomons to Edinburgh in 2013 and went on to play 105 games and help the club to the European Challenge Cup final in 2015.

His form was impossible to ignore and saw him reach the pinnacle of the sport for his adopted nation when he made his Scotland debut against England in 2017. 

The back-row bruiser, who has nine Test caps to his name, left for England in 2018 to take up arms for Worcester Warriors. He suffered a fractured larynx in his debut against Wasps and was expected to miss the remainder of the season but defied medical opinion to make his comeback in the European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Harlequins.

He signed for Toulon ahead of the 2021-22 Top 14 campaign and has been a workhorse for the French outfit. The semi-final clash with Saracens was no exception as he carried for 19 metres and made 15 tackles.

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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