GARETH DUNCAN looks at the Saffas who impressed in the leagues around the world over the weekend.
Ulster might have suffered major knocks to their Pro12 semi-final hopes after successive defeats to Connacht and Leinster during the latter stages of their domestic campaign, but the Northern Irish club continued their impressive European Cup run as they surged into the title decider with a 22-19 semi-final win over Edinburgh. It will be Ulster’s first European Cup final appearance since winning the tournament in 1999.
Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and eighthman Pedrie Wannenburg scored the points between them to give their team the big win. Pienaar showed his fine form with the boot as he converted all six of his goal attempts (five penalties and a conversion) for a haul of 17 points. The former Sharks man was also impressive in general play behind a dominant pack, prompting calls for Springbok selection from pundits up north and in South Africa.
Wannenburg, who finishes his third and final season with Ulster this year before joining French Top 14 outfit Castres, grabbed a vital try during the first quarter. He was also burly on defence as he made six tackles.
Lock and captain Johann Muller, fullback Stefan Terblanche and reserve flank Robbie Diack also featured for the victors. Muller was outstanding, as he was their lineout kingpin (he won six feeds), made 14 tackles (without missing one) and forced three turnovers. Terblanche was given a yellow card in the 28th minute for striking an opponent at the ruck, but still delivered a solid performance as he made the second most turnovers in the match (five). Diack came off the bench at the death to help close out the win.
Edinburgh flank David Denton, who was schooled at Kingswood College in the Eastern Cape and represented EP at provincial level, contributed to his side’s physical performance. He made six tackles and gained 28m with ball in hand.
In the other semi-final, hooker Richardt Strauss and replacement prop Heinke van der Merwe powered defending champions Leinster to a 19-15 comeback win over reserve prop Daniel Kotze’s Clermont. Strauss (seven) and Van der Merwe (four) made 11 tackles between them.
Ulster and Leinster will meet in the final at Twickenham on 19 May.
In the European Challenge Cup’s first semi-final, Toulon skipper Joe van Niekerk led his charges to a 32-29 edging of reserve lock Anton van Zyl’s Stade Francais. Van Niekerk stood out on defence as he made six tackles and forced one turnover, while former England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson kicked Toulon to victory with seven penalties and two drop goals.
In the other semi-final, tighthead prop Eugene van Staden helped Biarritz to a 19-0 win over Brive, who had wing Ronnie Cooke, outside centre Riaan Swanepoel, lock Retief Uys, No 8 Antonie Claassen and reserve prop Pat Barnard in their match-day squad. Claassen was the top Saffa performer as he rushed 49m and made six tackles.
Toulon will duel against Biarritz in the final at the Stoop on 18 May.
In Super Rugby, Waratahs scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius came off the bench to score a try against the Crusaders in a 37-33 defeat.