South African teams’ maiden European Champions Cup season produced many magical moments, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld as he selects the 15 best local tries of the tournament.
The Stormers, Sharks, and Bulls all made their presence felt in the European top-flight, with the coastal outfits reaching the quarter-finals while the men from Pretoria progressed to the Round of 16.
They scored some memorable tries along the way, some through sleights of hands and others through top teamwork, great awareness, and outrageous athleticism.
Without further ado, I give to you my 15 best Mzanzi-flavoured five-pointers of the tournament:
15: Mapimpi Magic
Sharks wing Makazole Mapimpi is used to being the finisher but he created this sterling score for Werner Kok. Working hard off the ball to inject himself into the action in the Round of 16 clash against Munster at home, he unleashed his fellow flyer with a cracking chicken wing offload.
14: Rocket Man
It’s not just the title of one of Elton John’s greatest hits, it’s also the nickname of Bulls speedster Stravino Jacobs, who showed his pace and ran a line out of this world to hammer down a flawless set-piece try in their tournament debut against Lyon at Loftus.
13: Counter Left
The Bulls pounced after evergreen Bismarck du Plessis poached the pill at the breakdown against the Exeter Chiefs. Man of the Match Kurt-Lee Arendse’s speed was key as he scorched downfield with Wandisile Simelane playing the link role with aplomb and David Kriel fending offJack Nowell to score.
12: Red Dawn
The Sharks were the first South African side to enter the unchartered waters of the European Champions Cup when they hosted Harlequins. In danger of being reeled in after losing Ox Nche to a red card in the 59th minute, the Durbanites strung together this smooth sequence finished off by Boeta Chamberlain to cement a historic win.
11: Front And Centre
Joseph Dweba’s wherewithal and skill were world-class as the Stormers hooker popped an over-the-shoulder offload to Dan du Plessis, who sped into a hole and swerved past Clermont fullback Alex Newsome for a beauty at Cape Town Stadium.
10: Kolisi’s Class
Sharks and Springbok captain Siya Kolisi showed his underrated ball skills with a phenomenal pick-up and offload to put Marnus Potgieter in for the first of his two tries against Bordeaux in Durban.
9: Daylight Robbery
Sharks lock Eben Etzebeth pulled off the perfect heist with wonderful alertness and understanding of the law when he caught Harlequins’ Joe Marler slipping his shoulder bind and left Danny Care dumbfounded as he grabbed the ball and cantered in a high IQ try.
An excellent lineout steal by Eben Etzebeth ignited this team try by the Sharks against Bordeaux. Siya Kolisi blasted through a tackle with Phepsi Buthelezi and Makazole Mapimpi making probing runs before Boeta Chamberlain floated the ball to Marnus Potgieter to score in the corner.
7: Magic Trick
Jaden Hendrikse pulled a rabbit out of the hat at Kings Park that left the Harlequins flabbergasted like children at a magic show as the Sharks scrumhalf put Makazole Mapimpi in for the simplest of walk-ins with a brilliant behind-the-back pass from the base of a five-metre scrum.
6: Dazzling Duo
Clermont were left thunderstruck by the thrilling Stormers duo of Suleiman Hartzenberg and Herschel Jantjies in Cape Town, the former unleashing devastating footwork to break free and offload to the latter, who did extremely well to finish.
5: Off To A Flyer
The Sharks got off to the perfect start against Harlequins at the Stoop, the backline thanking their forwards for a dominant scrum as Thaakir Abrahams flew around the corner to collect Aphelele Fassi’s delicate grubber and send Lukhanyo Am away.
4: Gone In 55 Seconds
The Stormers flew out of the gates in their Round of 16 playoff against Harlequins with Hacjivah Dayimani taking a flat pass from Manie Libbok and unlocking the defence with a deft offload to fellow back-rower Deon Fourie, who showed good gas to sprint in.
3: French Fried
The halfback pairing of the Sharks burnt Toulouse from deep in their quarter-final clash, Curwin Bosch hot-stepping past one defender and in between two more before linking up with Grant Williams, who blazed a trail over the try line.
The Stormers ran London Irish ragged in their first home game. Hacjivah Dayimani, in particular, was full of running and the key man behind this coast-to-coast effort as he cantered up field and linked up with Paul de Wet. The scrumhalf shifted the ball to Lionel Zas, who stepped and powered his way over the line.
1: Supreme Athleticism
“One of the best finishes you’ll see in Europe,” remarked Ugo Monye on commentary after Stormers superstar Damian Willemse acrobatically dotted down in the nick of time in the corner against Harlequins following a crosskick by Manie Libbok and good work by Seabelo Senatla.