GARETH DUNCAN takes a look at the Saffas who have impressed in the leagues around the world over the weekend.
In only his first season in Japan, Springbok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez has already become a key player at his club Suntory Goliath. After inconsistent displays at the World Cup late last year, the 29-year-old has returned to top form during his time in the Asian nation and was valuable in Suntory’s title-winning run in the Japan Rugby Top League. They recorded a 47-28 final win over defending champions the Panasonic Wild Knights, who fielded outside centre Jaque Fourie in their starting line-up.
Du Preez scored a try in the first half as Suntory led 20-13 at the break. Fourie also dotted down and completed a brace in the second stanza, but it only proved to be consolation scores as Suntory surged to a 19-point victory with a strong finish to the game. Former Wallabies flanker George Smith was voted Man of the Match as he scored a hat-trick of tries.
Former Bulls and Bok flanker Danie Rossouw featured in Suntory’s 56-8 semi-final win over NEC Green Rockets last weekend, but was left out of the squad for the final because of the league’s rule on foreign players. Clubs are only allowed to field three internationals at a time.
With the England tour to South Africa in June, there have been talks of a possible call-up for Du Preez. Before his departure, the player said he would make himself available to the Springboks if former mentor Heyneke Meyer was appointed as head coach.
Speaking to keo.co.za earlier this month, Suntory and new Japan coach Eddie Jones believed that Du Preez would be a valuable Test asset if selected. Suntory team-mate and former Lions flanker Todd Clever agreed.
‘Fourie has adapted very well,’ Clever told keo.co.za. ‘The Japanese game lacks the physicality the South African game has, but the pace is so much quicker over here. Fourie has also returned to top shape. I’ve played in New Zealand, America and South Africa before, and I can honestly say that players are conditioned really well in Japan.
‘Jaque has also been in great form and scored plenty of tries during the campaign for the Wild Knights. He also scored two in his club’s semi-final win.’
The Japanese domestic season ends on 20 March, which will be the conclusion of their knock-out tournament, the Japan Cup. Suntory will face Toshiba Brave Lupus in the semi-finals on 9 February.
Meanwhile, in Australia, former Griquas and Cheetahs scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius scored a try in his official debut for the Waratahs against the Reds. It helped give the Sydney team a 21-18 lead at the death, but the defending Super Rugby champions sneaked in for 25-21 win with a late converted try.
In England, Bath flanker Francois Louw captained his side to a crucial 12-9 away win over the Exeter Chiefs, who led 6-0 at half-time. Scrumhalf Michael Claassens also featured for the victors. Fullback Errie Claassens started in the Worcester Warriors’ famous 16-11 win over defending champions Saracens, who had loosehead prop John Smit, hooker Schalk Brits, No 8 Ernst Joubert and scrumhalf Neil de Kock in their starting line-up.
In France, tighthead prop Gert Muller scored a try and flyhalf Conrad Barnard kicked 13 points in Agen’s 23-12 home win over scrumhalf Rory Kockott’s Castres. Lock Dewald Senekal and flanker Adri Badenhorst also started for the hosts.
Wing Ronnie Cooke scored a try in Brive’s 22-9 win over scrumhalf Ricky Januarie’s lowly Lyon. Brive also played fullback Scott Spedding, lock Retief Uys, reserve flanker Antonie Claassen and replacement prop Pat Barnard in the ill-disciplined game that saw five yellow cards and two red cards being issued. Barnard was sin binned in the 49th minute.
In the Pro 12, loosehead prop Heinke van der Merwe scored a try to help log leaders Leinster salvage a 10-10 away draw against Glasgow. Hooker Richardt Strauss also started in the stalemate.
Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar kicked a conversion and a penalty in Ulster’s 15-14 win over the Ospreys. The Northern Irish team also fielded No 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, fullback Stefan Terblanche and reserve flanker Robbie Diack.
Flyhalf Naas Olivier kicked three penalties for Aironi in their 10-9 defeat to Newport Gwent Dragons. The Welsh club claimed a late win when they were awarded a last-minute penalty try.