Quintin van Jaarsveld selects the 10 best tries of the Preparation Series.
No silverware was on the line during the eight-team series, which primarily served as preparation for the ground-breaking 2021 season with South Africa’s “Big Four” set for their first foray into Europe in the form of the PRO14 Rainbow Cup, which kicks off next month.
However, it did produce plenty of trophy tries, thanks in part to the innovations that were introduced to speed-up matches and increase the amount of ball-in-play time.
Narrowing down the top 10 wasn’t easy, but here are my picks:
10: ‘Hungry Hippo’
Robin Stevens showed that individual brilliance isn’t reserved for flashy backs. The Lions poached the replacement Elephants hooker’s throw-in from an attacking 5m lineout, but he’d have the last laugh. The embodiment of the classic Hungry Hippos children’s game, he pounced on the tapped-back ball and magnificently managed to dot down in the tightest of spaces.
The dynamic duo of Damian Willemse and Leolin Zas left the Bulls thunderstruck during the thrilling North-South derby at Loftus. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it piece of brilliance, the mercurial Stormers fullback shot a lightning bolt of a pass while in mid-air to his winger, who stepped inside Richard Kriel and humiliated Stedman Gans with the good old “don’t argue” hand-off to strike a bitter blow.
8: Kolisi Touches Down at Kings Park
Marquee signing Siya Kolisi made his much-anticipated Sharks debut in the Durban side’s final game against the Bulls. Sbu Nkosi played a key role as remarkable handling by the hosts in atrocious conditions saw them string together eight passes before great determination by the World Cup-winning Springbok captain saw him score his first try in the Black and White.
7: Running of the Bulls
The Bulls punished the old enemy with poetry in motion straight off the training pitch in Pretoria. The hosts launched from a lineout near the halfway line and sublime synergy in the backline created acres of space on the opposite side of the field, where wing Marco Jansen van Vuren muscled his way over despite the efforts of three defenders.
6: Have a Seat
Rookie Stormers wing Sihle Njezula made a name for himself with an eye-catching performance in Kimberley, where he set-up three of his team’s tries with speed, skill and strength. The best of the bunch saw him bulldoze Griquas scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer to break away, step another defender, draw three more and send teenage flyhalf Kade Wolhuter on his merry way.
5: Pumas Play Hot Potato
Backs and forwards combined beautifully for this neat five-pointer in Nelspruit. Hard-working Pumas centre Ali Mgijima set this gem in motion with a dart and offload to Francois Kleynhans. The flank rushed down field and found wing Tapiwa Mafura, who hot-potatoed the ball to lock Brandon Valentine to finish off.
4: De Beer’s Brilliance
Hendrik Luus proved to be a super-sub against the Stormers in Kimberley. The replacement hooker’s cracking cameo included a classic turnover on the deck and Griquas cashed in. Coming from depth, flyhalf Tinus de Beer sliced through like a hot knife through butter and stepped both Ruhan Nel and Sergeal Petersen to score a stunner.
Rosko Specman was the tormentor-in-chief when the Cheetahs spoiled the Stormers’ “house-warming” at Cape Town Stadium. The meat in the middle of the Blitzbok legend’s tantalising treble was this piece of “Specmagic”, which saw the little wizard waltz past Tristan Leyds and David Meihuizen and dummy Kade Wolhuter to dot down under the posts.
2: Coast to Coast
The Sharks served up the team try of the series at Ellis Park. With three fluid long passes inside their 22, the Durbanites freed up Yaw Penxe on the left-wing. The speedster stepped two defenders and offloaded to captain Lukhanyo Am, who in turn linked up with Rynhard Jonker. The rookie centre chipped ahead and flying fullback Aphelele Fassi finished off.
1: Instant Classic
Ntuthuko Mchunu became an overnight sensation after he scored one of the all-time great prop tries in the Sharks’ clash with the Lions at Ellis Park. The converted loose forward ran a great line, was fed a perfectly-timed pass by fellow super-sub Dylan Richardson and off he went. The rampaging rookie resembled a runaway freight train, showcasing scary speed for a man of his size to outstrip a litany of Lions and storm over from 52m out.