Claassens’ brace boosts Bath’s battle

GARETH DUNCAN looks at the Saffas who impressed in the leagues around the world over the weekend.

If you’re searching for a consistent South African performer overseas, you need to look no further than Bath scrumhalf Michael Claassens. Since leaving for England after the 2007 Currie Cup, the 30-year-old has become a key player at his club and has owned their No 9 jersey since his arrival. He has already played over 100 games for Bath, captained the team and contributed to their only title over the past 14 years: the European Challenge Cup when they beat the Worcester Warriors 24-16 in 2008. He’s also rated as one of the top scrumhalves in England.

Bath scrumhalf Michael Claassens

This season, Claassens – along with skipper Francois Louw – has been central in Bath’s turnaround in the English Premiership. After an early slump during the campaign, which included five defeats out of eight matches between October and December, they found themselves in the relegation zone. However, a strong start to the second half of the league stage has seen them surge up the table. They have won four out of their last six fixtures since January, with their latest victory being a 36-17 triumph over the Worcester Warriors at the Rec on Saturday.

After Worcester opened the scoring through wing Tom Arscott, Claassens played an influential role in Bath’s fightback and scored two tries. One came on the half-hour mark as Bath built a 21-10 half-time lead, while the second came early in the second stanza. By the time the former Cheetahs and Springbok scrumhalf was substituted, Bath had secured an 18-point advantage.

With the Premiership only resuming on 23 March, Bath will prepare for their home LV Cup semi-final clash against the Leicester Tigers on Friday.

In other results in England, Saffa-laden Saracens broke their two-match losing streak with an 18-12 win over the Northampton Saints. Hooker Schalk Brits, flanker Justin Melck and No 8 Ernst Joubert featured in the starting line-up while props John Smit and Matt Stevens, and scrumhalf Neil de Kock played off the bench. Director of rugby Gary Gold’s Newcastle Falcons picked up a 9-9 home draw against log leaders Harlequins – a respectable result for a club that’s struggling at the foot at the table. Fullback Greg Goosen and lock Adriaan Fondse started for the hosts, while reserve prop Ashley Wells ran on in the second half.

In the French Top 14, flanker Gerhard Vosloo, tighthead prop Daniel Kotze and wing Brent Russell helped Clermont to a massive 35-5 win over loosehead prop Daan Human and reserve No 8 Shaun Sowerby’s Toulouse. Vosloo made an impact at the breakdown battle, while Russell scored a last-minute try in the result that ends Toulouse’s unbeaten streak that stretches back to October.

Agen picked up an impressive 22-17 win over Perpignan thanks to the boot of pivot Conrad Barnard, who slotted five penalties and a conversion. Tighthed prop Gert Muller, lock Dewald Senekal and reserve flanker Adri Badenhorst also featured for the victors, while inside centre Gavin Hume and lock Gerrie Britz were on the field for Perpignan.

Bayonne flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter kicked six penalties in his team’s 22-21 loss to lock Francois van der Merwe and No 8 Jacques Cronje’s Racing Metro. Bayonne, who also started wing Sam Gerber, were denied by a late try from Fijian wing Sireli Bobo. Lyon scrumhalf Ricky Januarie and Castres No 9 Rory Kockott went head to head in a 9-9 stalemate at the Stade Pierre-Antoine.

In the Pro 12, Ulster continued their good form thanks to their South African contingent of scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, fullback Stefan Terblanche, eighthman Robbie Diack and flanker Pedrie Wannenburg. Terblanche scored a try and Pienaar kicked four conversions in the Northern Irish club’s 38-16 win over Edinburgh.

Front rowers Richardt Strauss and Heinke van der Merwe contributed to log leaders Leinster’s 22-6 away win over Aironi. Flyhalf Naas Olivier kicked a penalty for the latter. Wing Hanno Dirksen scored a try in the Ospreys’ 26-20 home defeat to Glasgow.

In Super Rugby, scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius played 77 minutes in the Waratahs’ 35-19 win over the Rebels in Melbourne. No Saffas featured in the quarter-final rounds of the Japan Cup, but flanker Danie Rossouw and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez are likely to play in Suntory Sungoliath’s semi-final clash against Toshiba Brave Lupus, while outside centre Jaque Fourie should start in the Panasonic Wild Knights’ play-off game against the NEC Green Rockets this weekend.