GARETH DUNCAN looks at the Saffas who impressed in the leagues around the world over the weekend.
While Toulouse and Clermont fight it out for first place in the French Top 14 standings with only three rounds remaining, there’s a tight race in the relegation battle.
Only six log points separate Bayonne (who are 13th with 38 log points) and Perpignan (who are ninth with 44 log points) in the bottom half of the table, which creates an intense finish to the 2011-12 campaign. Bordeaux, Brive and Biarritz also feature above the danger zone. Hooker Jody Jenneker, scrumhalf Ricky Januarie and lock Coenie Basson’s Lyon are almost certain for the drop as they are last with 30 log points.
Bayonne’s survival hopes were given a boost after a 24-19 win over tighthead prop Eugene van Staden’s Biarritz at the Stade Jean Dauger, mainly thanks to flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, who kicked seven penalties to seal the crucial win. The victory was Bayonne’s second triumph in their last six league outings.
Former Cheetahs and Sharks pivot Potgieter will play a key role in the coming weeks for his team, as they will have a challenging finish to the season. A must-win encounter against Lyon next weekend will be followed by a home game against Agen and a trip to Castres.
In other results in France, flyhalf Conrad Barnard slotted 17 points in Agen’s 22-13 win over lock Bakkies Botha and captain Joe van Niekerk’s Toulon. Tighthead prop Gert Muller, lock Dewald Senekal and flank Adri Badenhorst also featured for the victors.
Fullback Frans Steyn (who gained 63m with ball in hand and kicked a penalty) impressed in Racing Metro’s 40-19 win over Brive, who had fullback Scott Spedding, wing Ronnie Cooke, inside centre Riaan Swanepoel (who scored a try and kicked eight points), tighthead prop Pat Barnard, lock Retief Uys and No 8 Antonie Claassen in their run-on XV. Racing also fielded lock Francois van der Merwe and No 8 Jacques Cronje.
Wing Brent Russell’s Clermont downed lock Anton van Zyl’s Stade Francais 25-9. Russell rushed 46m and beat two defenders, while Van Zyl won four and stole two lineout feeds and made six tackles.
In England, Saffa-laden Saracens bounced back from their disappointing 24-19 league defeat to Harlquins and their European Cup quarter-final exit with a 28-19 win over tighthead prop Faan Rautenbach’s London Irish. Inside centre Brad Barritt, scrumhalf Neil de Kock, No 8 Ernst Joubert, tighthead prop Matt Stevens and hooker Schalk Brits all started for Sarries, while lock Mouritz Botha featured off the bench. Brits was the standout performer again this week, rushing 47m with ball in hand as a primary ball-carrier and forcing one turnover.
Saracens are now third on the log behind Harlequins and Leicester, with only two rounds remaining. They’ll be desperate for a top two finish to host a semi-final.
Director of rugby Gary Gold’s Newcastle Falcons picked up a 29-20 win over Gloucester. Fullback Greg Goosen and wing Corne Uys started for Newcastle.
In the Pro12, loosehead prop Heinke van der Merwe and reserve hooker Richardt Strauss were solid in Leinster’s 54-13 drubbing of Edinburgh. Loosehead prop Wian du Preez helped Munster to a 35-29 win over Glasgow.
Lock Corniel van Zyl starred for Treviso in their 33-32 edging of wing Tonderai Chavhanga’s Newport Gwent Dragons. Van Zyl was a kingpin in the lineouts, winning five throws off his team’s feed and stealing one of the Dragons’ feeds, while he was also made six tackles and forced one turnover.