GARETH DUNCAN looks at the Saffas who impressed in the European Cup over the weekend.
Munster have started their Pro 12 title defence on a disappointing note. They currently lie third on the tournament table, with only eight wins from their 13 fixtures to date as they trail current leaders and Irish rivals Leinster – who they beat in last season’s final – by 10 log points.
However, Munster will be delighted with their European Cup campaign as they finished the group stages as the only undefeated club in the competition. South African props Wian du Preez and BJ Botha have been a major influence up front as they’ve started in all six wins – the latest a 51-36 drubbing of Brian Mujati’s Northampton Saints at Milton Keynes on Saturday.
Du Preez, who signed for Munster from the Cheetahs in 2010 after an impressive 2009 loan spell, and Botha, who joined the club from Ulster following a poor run of injuries last season, were powerful around the park as they contributed largely at the breakdowns and on defence. Normally strong in the scrums, they didn’t have a great start at the set-piece as they were dominated in the first half, but they were able to rectify their front row woes after the break and were more solid thereafter.
Botha was an effective ball carrier and he forced his way over the whitewash from close range in the 30th minute. It was an important try as it staged a first-half comeback as Northampton led 13-3 in the first quarter.
Munster will now host Ulster at Thomond Park in their quarter-final tie on 7 April.
In other weekend results, Saffa-laden Saracens will face Clermont at home in the next round as they beat flanker Bian Vermaak, scrumhalf Tobie Botes and lock Corniel van Zyl’s Treviso 26-20 to top Pool 5. SA-born prop Matt Stevens, hooker John Smit, lock Mouritz Botha and inside centre Brad Barritt started for the English defending champions before flanker Justin Melck featured off the bench. Botha was the standout forward as he made 10 tackles, won three line-out feeds and scored an important try in the first half while Barritt was outstanding on defence with 12 tackles (the most in the match) and gained 56m from six ball carries.
Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar continued his fine form with the boot as he slotted five penalties for lock Johann Muller, fullback Stefan Terblanche and No 8 Pedrie Wannenburg’s Ulster, but they still lost 19-15 to flanker Gerhard Vosloo and reserve prop Daniel Kotze’s Clermont at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
SA-bound Frans Steyn started at outside centre for Racing Metro, who also had lock Francois van der Merwe and No 8 Jacques Cronje in their match squad. Steyn kicked two penalties, including a 50m shot, but it couldn’t help his side as they went down 36-30 against Cardiff Blues.
Hooker Richardt Strauss and reserve prop Heinke van der Merwe featured in Leinster’s 25-3 win over Montpellier while scrumhalf Rory Kockott’s two penalties couldn’t help Castres as they were edged 16-13 at home by Scarlets.
EUROPEAN CUP QUARTER-FINALS
Munster vs Ulster
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues
Edinburgh vs Toulouse
Saracens vs Clermont Auvergne