GARETH DUNCAN looks at the Saffas who impressed in the leagues around the world over the weekend.
In the French Top 14, Toulon have emerged as the only unbeaten team in the league as they enjoyed a 32-25 win over Montpellier. It was the club’s fifth straight win, which sees them top the log. And there are two South Africans who have formed a key part in their success this season, which was notable in their latest triumph.
Lock Bakkies Botha continued his fine form for the victors as he displayed a good 80-minute physical performance, while flank Joe van Niekerk came off the bench to score the match-winning try. Former Sharks flyhalf Frederick Michalak added 22 points with the boot, boosting his chances to claim the French No 10 jersey later this year.
Hooker Rassie van Vuuren grabbed a second-half brace for Montpellier, which sparked a potential second-half comeback. Lock Drikus Hancke also started for the losers.
Botha and Van Niekerk (both 32 years old) are veterans, but they have proven with their performances that they could still add value to the Springboks if selected. They would be good additions to Heyneke Meyer’s squad during the end-of-year tour in November.
HIGHLIGHTS OF TOULON’S WIN OVER MONTPELLIER
In other results, scrumhalf Rory Kockott came off the bench to play a match-winning role for Castres in their 28-13 win over Biarritz. The former Sharks and Lions No 9 scored a try, a conversion and four penalties to help his team break down a 13-12 deficit. He did, however, receive a yellow card at the death for offside.
Lock Francois van der Merwe scored a telling try for Racing Metro in their 25-18 away win over flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, fullback Scott Spedding, wing Sam Gerber and lock Dewald Senekal’s Bayonne. Potgieter kicked five penalties for the losers. Flank Bernard le Roux also started for Racing.
Agen flyhalf Conrad Barnard kicked 22 points (two conversions, five penalties and a drop goal) to help his team to a 32-26 win over Grenoble. Lock Ross Skeate and utility back Greg Goosen also got game time in Agen’s first victory of the season, while Grenoble fielded outside centre Rudi Coetzee (who scored a try), wing Ronnie Cooke, No 8 Shaun Sowerby, flank Ronald Bernard, lock Naudes Beukes and prop Albertus Buckle.
Bordeaux scrumhalf Heini Adams crossed the chalk in his team’s 30-22 triumph over lock Anton van Zyl’s Stade Francais.
In England, No 8 Ashley Johnson enjoyed a 43-14 thrashing of London Irish in his first official start for London Wasps. Lock Marco Wentzel also ran on for the victors.
Saffa-laden Saracens remained unbeaten as they fought hard for a 9-9 stalemate against the Leceister Tigers at Wembley, after trailing 9-3 at the break. Inside centre Brad Barritt, scrumhalf Neil de Kock, hooker Schalk Brits, lock Mouritz Botha and No 8 Ernst Joubert all started, while hooker John Smit, prop Petrus du Plessis and lock Alistair Hargreaves featured off the bench.
Joubert is set to be the next South African to play Test rugby for a foreign nation as he recently qualified to play for England.
In the Pro 12, Worcester-born speedster DTH van der Merwe starred in Glasgow’s 28-10 away win over wing Hanno Dirksen’s Ospreys as he grabbed a brace.
His first try came in the opening moments of the match as he latched on to an early up-and-under and sprinted 70m for an easy run to the whitewash. He completed his double from close range in the second half to help seal the victory against the defending champions, who have now lost in all three rounds so far.
Tighthead prop WP Nel continued the solid start to his European stint with Edinburgh and featured in their 41-10 thrashing of lock Quintin Geldenhuys and No 8 Dries van Schalkwyk’s Zebre.
Lock Johann Muller and reserve hooker Rob Herring fronted Ulster to a 20-19 edging of tighthead prop BJ Botha’s Munster, while eighthman Andries Pretorius captained the Cardiff Blues to a 16-5 win over the Newport Gwent Dragons.