GARETH DUNCAN looks at the Saffas who impressed in the leagues around the world over the weekend.
Leinster reserve hooker Richardt Strauss and loosehead prop Heinke van der Merwe were close to adding the Pro12 title to their recent European Cup crowns. However, they lost the domestic final to wing Hanno Dirksen’s Ospreys at the death thanks to a late converted try which sealed a 31-30 victory.
The Irish side held a 30-21 lead early in the final quarter, but the Welsh club broke down this deficit with a one-man advantage (Leinster were down to 14 men as they had received their second yellow card via reserve lock Nathan White) after veteran Shane Williams crossed the chalk and flyhalf Dan Biggar added a penalty and the match-winning conversion.
Dirksen finds himself among an elite group as the Ospreys became the first Pro12 outfit to claim a total of four league titles. Strauss and Van der Merwe would’ve been part of a memorable Leinster team if they triumphed as a continental double hasn’t been achieved since 2004 (by the London Wasps).
In the French Top 14 semi-final qualifiers, scrumhalf Rory Kockott’s Castres downed centre Paul Bosch, hooker Erasmus van Vuuren and flank Drikus Hancke’s Montpellier 31-15. All the Saffas made an impact off the bench in the second half.
In the other play-off, No 8 Jacques Cronje, lock Francois van der Merwe and fullback Frans Steyn’s Racing Metro lost 17-13 to lock Bakkies Botha and flank Joe van Niekerk’s Toulon. Steyn slotted a penalty to help his side to a 13-3 half-time lead, before Van Niekerk and Botha contributed to their club’s impressive comeback.
In next weekend’s semi-finals, Castres face defending champions Toulouse, who have loosehead props Daan Human and Gurthro Steenkamp, and eighthman Shaun Sowerby in their squad. Toulon tackle wing Brent Russell, flank Gerhard Vosloo and tighthead prop Daniel Kotze’s Clermont.