GARETH DUNCAN looks at the Saffas who impressed in the leagues around the world over the weekend.
Saracens have developed into one of the top powers in English club rugby over the past few years, and it’s well known that the influx of South African recruits have contributed to that success, which includes the Premiership title last season.
However, the Watford-based team suffered a rough patch in February, when the bulk of their first-choice players (including South African-born ones like lock Mouritz Botha and centre Brad Barritt) were away on Six Nations duty. Successive defeats to the Leicester Tigers (20-19) and lowly Worcester Warriors (16-11) cost them a chance to catch up to log leaders Harlequins, who also suffered a 29-23 loss to Gloucester and a 9-9 draw against the Newcastle Falcons.
An 18-12 win over Northampton Saints snapped their losing streak, but the return of their international players saw a convincing showing in their 45-9 thrashing of the Sale Sharks in Stockport, a big boost to their chase for top spot on the table.
Seven Saffas started for Saracens in the victory – loosehead prop John Smit, hooker Schalk Brits, tighthead prop Matt Stevens, flanker Justin Melck, No 8 Ernst Joubert, scrumhalf Neil de Kock and inside centre Barritt.
Joubert was the best all-round performer as he scored a try, gained 12m in two ball carries and made nine tackles. The former Lions man is touted to be the next South African to don the Red Rose as he qualifies to play for England after July. Barritt was also solid on defence, making nine tackles, while De Kock was outstanding on attack as he created a try.
In other results in England, Northampton Saints tighthead prop Brian Mujati returned to the starting line-up in the team’s 32-15 win over the London Wasps. The victory keeps Northampton in the top four with only four rounds remaining.
In the Pro12, scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar kicked 12 points in Ulster’s 27-23 last-gasp win over lock Corniel van Zyl’s Treviso. Wing Stefan Terblanche, skipper Johann Muller and No 8 Robbie Diack also ran out for the Northern Irish club, who scored a last-minute try for the triumph.
Former Springbok and Stormers wing Tonderai Chavhanga scored a brace in the Dragons’ 29-15 win over Edinburgh. The Welsh club aim to pin the speedster for another season after his seven tries in 15 appearances.
Wing Hanno Dirksen showed a great attacking display in the Ospreys’ 23-22 shock win over loosehead prop Heinke van der Merwe and hooker Richardt Strauss’ Leinster. He rushed 78m with ball in hand (the most in the match), beat two defenders in his linebreak, made two offloads and claimed one turnover.
In the French Top 14, tighthead prop Daniel Kotze and reserve wing Brent Russell featured in Clermont’s vital 29-23 win over Perpignan, which sees them cut Toulouse’s lead on the table to just one log point. This comes after the defending champions’ 18-17 defeat to scrumhalf Heini Adams and tighthead prop Bees Roux’s Bordeaux.
Skipper Joe van Niekerk celebrated his two-year contract extension at Toulon with a 32-20 win over inside centre Frans Steyn, No 8 Jacques Cronje, flank Bernard le Roux and lock Francois van der Merwe’s Racing Metro. Lock Bakkies Botha also started for the victors.
Scrumhalf Ricky Januarie scored a try while former Sharks XV hooker Jody Jenneker had an impressive debut for Lyon in their 34-17 loss to Biarritz. Lock Anton van Zyl was solid on defence (he made 10 tackles) and in the lineouts in Stade Francais’ 53-27 win over flyhalf Conrad Barnard, lock Dewald Senekal and flank Adri Badenhorst’s Agen. Barnard slotted 12 points with the boot.