GARETH DUNCAN looks at the Saffas who impressed in the leagues around the world over the weekend.
The European Cup final clash saw five Saffas in action. Defending champions Leinster had hooker Richardt Strauss and loosehead prop Heinke van der Merwe in their match-day squad, while Ulster started fullback Stefan Terblanche, scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, lock and captain Johann Muller and No 8 Pedrie Wannenburg.
And it was Strauss and Van der Merwe’s side that powered to a 42-14 triumph (the biggest winning margin in a European Cup final), securing back-to-back continental titles (their third in four seasons).
The front-rowers were influential up front with powerful performances. Strauss was a key feature in Leinster’s run-on side and made a big all-round contribution, especially as a primary ball carrier. The Telegraph’s Paul Ackford gave the former Cheetahs player’s performance an 8/10 rating, saying: ‘He’s one of the game’s fleet-footed hookers. Impressively mobile and good on the ball’. Van der Merwe made an impact off the bench as he formed part of a strong forwards showing in the second half and crossed the chalk in one of his team’s five tries.
Ulster were still in the contest at the break, trailing 14-6. Pienaar kicked the points in the first half via two penalties. However, they buckled against Leinster’s onslaught in the second half. Pienaar added another penalty, but struggled behind a dominated pack and his tactical kicking game was surprisingly below average. Muller couldn’t inspire his team up front, while Terblanche was good under the high ball but he faded with Ulster’s implosion. The former Sharks veteran also received a late yellow card for a dangerous tackle.
Wannenburg had a disappointing last game for his club (he departs to French outfit Castres next season). Ackford gave him a 4/10 rating, saying: ‘Sadly, a disaster. A ludicrous one-handed pass which went nowhere and a series of missed tackles.’
This was Strauss’s second European Cup title, while Van der Merwe becomes the 10th Saffa to lift the prestigious trophy.
In the European Cup Challenge final, tighthead prop Eugene van Staden’s Biarritz edged captain and No 8 Joe van Niekerk’s Toulon 21-18. Van Staden had a solid start for the victors before being taken off early in the second half, while Van Niekerk was a prominent feature in the lineouts but failed to have a strong influence on attack or defence.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE EUROPEAN CUP FINAL