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Tuesday May 14, 2024

Round 16 BKT United Rugby Championship team of the week

Domestic rugby returned to our screens this weekend as the Investec Champions Cup takes its two-week hiatus ahead of the final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

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Across the three major European and South African leagues, there was plenty of jeopardy heading to the weekend, with teams jostling for positions in the knockout stages of their respective competitions.

Three European based players who should make their Springbok debut in 2024

In the BKT URC, the top four sides all remain in with a realistic chance of claiming the top spot and, with it, the crucial home advantage through to the final should they progress that far. Behind this group, the teams ranked 5th – 11th can all still make the top eight and, with it, theoretically confirm a place in next season’s Investec Champions Cup. Of course, the 12th-placed Hollywoodbets Sharks can throw a spanner in the works by winning the Challenge Cup and securing their place in the Champions Cup at the expense of the 8th-ranked team.

With so much on the line, here is a team of players who stood up and put in significant performances for their team on the weekend.

15. Warrick Gelant – DHL Stormers

The ten-times-capped Springbok is rounding into some of the best forms of his career at 28 years old and has all of the key characteristics required to challenge once again for the Green 15 shirts later this year. Claiming the player of the match award on the weekend, Gelant was a symbol of defensive strength for the Stormers and was exceptional with his link play in attack. Runner-up: Josh McKay – Glasgow Warriors 

14. Jordan Larmour – Leinster Rugby

Following a few seasons in the relative wilderness, the Ireland flyer is getting back to his best and scored a superb hattrick against the Ospreys. Playing regularly in Leinster’s first-choice XV this season, the always-busy Larmour has added a hard edge to his game as a more direct runner. This is not to say that he doesn’t use his exceptional footwork to deadly effect but that he has taken a step forward that has made him less predictable and a whole lot more effective. Runner-up Calvin Nash – Munster Rugby

13. Tomasso Menoncello – Benetton

Italy’s superstar centre was at it again in Durban and was rewarded with a brilliant try, which came courtesy of his mind meld with international centre partner Ignacio Brex. Defensively, the 21-year-old bossed the Shark’s ball carriers whilst his strike runs off short balls caused the Durban-based sides all sorts of trouble throughout the afternoon. Runner-up Alex Nankivell – Munster Rugby

12. Jamie Osborne – Leinster Rugby

Another ‘Wunderkind’ who is making his name at the highest level, Osborne might just be the most exciting backline prospect in Irish Rugby this season. At 6’4″ and 95kg, he is the archetypal centre of the modern game, and his combination with the experienced Robbie Henshaw is a sight to behold. Switching jerseys with Henshaw this weekend as he moved to the outside centre, Osborne routinely popped up in the inside berth as a second distributor. While Garry Ringrose remains an injury concern, it would be tough to see Osborne edged out even when the Ireland star returns. Runner-up: Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu  – DHL Stormers 

The Springbok team that on form should start the first test against Ireland

11. Werner Kok – Hollywoodbets Sharks

One of the most underrated players in South African Rugby, the former Blitzbokke has been one of the few shining lights for the Sharks this season. Scoring two tries against Benetton, Kok kept his team in the fight whilst his defensive work was exceptional as always. Having signed for Ulster ahead of next season, the 31-year-old still has the potential to go on and play for the Springboks and has shown no signs of slowing down. Runner-up Kurt Lee Arendse – Vodacom Bulls

10. Manie Libbok – DHL Stormers

The Jose Mourinho gif of shushing the crowd comes to mind here. Whilst it was far from a vintage performance, with head coach John Dobson calling his team’s outing ‘woeful’, the Cape Townians switched it on when it was most needed. The key to everything good for the former champions was Libbok, who, when he was on a hot run of form, was possibly the best playmaker in the world. Landing eight shots at goal for a total of 19 points, Libbok looks to be in the groove at the moment, which is not good news for other teams in the URC… Runner-up: Chris Smith – Vodacom Bulls 

9.  John Cooney – Ulster Rugby

Like Kok, Cooney appears to be the forgotten man of Irish Rugby. Never quite getting a look in with the national team, the 11 times capped 34-year-old will no doubt end his career wondering what could’ve been. In the here and now, he is playing some superb rugby under new head coach Richie Murphy, who looks to have given him a license to play what is in front of him. This was a wise decision by Murphy as Cooney has an incredible ability to see an opportunity and then dive into his bag of tricks to make it happen. Against the Scarlets on the weekend, it was Cooney’s ability to dictate the speed of play that got his team over the line. Runner-up: George Horne – Glasgow Warriors 

8. Evan Roos – DHL Stormers

‘Cause you’re hot, then you’re cold, You’re yes, then you’re no, You’re in, then you’re out, You’re up, then you’re down’ Who would’ve thought you could work Katy Perry into a team of the week? When speaking about the Stormers number eight it is impossible not to reference his propensity to dip out of form not only throughout a season but in a game. When fully locked in, the 24-year-old looks like the second coming of Duane Vermeulen; when slightly off it, he looks more like Matt Damon playing Francois Pienaar. The reality of the situation is that Roos should be a Springbok regular with his talent and his ability to produce a moment of magic like he did for his try against the Dragons proves this. At the moment, he has been in form number eight in the URC over the past month, and for Bok fans, this is a huge development. Runner-up: Aaron Wainwright – Dragons RFC

7. Elrigh Louw – Vodacom Bulls

Whilst his slightly younger teammate Cameron Hanekom has grabbed the headlines so far this season, it is Louw who has been the Bulls’ most consistent contributor. Like Roos, he is still just 24 years old, but unlike his rival, he is never out of form. This ability to routinely put in 8 out of 10 performances with a sprinkling of 9 or 10 out of 10s is simply phenomenal and is reminiscent of the great Pieter-Steph Du Toit. In fact, the comparison with arguably the best backrower in the world doesn’t stop there; physically, Louw is in a nearly identical mould to PSDT and brings with him a similar skillset as a line-out jumper, powerful carrier and big-time tackler. Taking on what is arguably the first-choice Scotland backrow on the weekend, Louw more than held his own and finished off a brilliant try, having trailed the electric Kurt Lee Arendse. Runner -up: Josh van der Flier – Leinster Rugby 

6. Matt Fagerson – Glasgow Warriors

Responding to losing his place in the starting Scottish backrow, Fagerson has been playing some sublime rugby in the number 6 shirt of late. Linking with Jack Dempsey and Rory Darge beautifully, Fagerson is still operating as a barn-storming ball carrier and bruising tackler. Scoring the opening try in the 6th minute for the Warriors, Fagerson set the physical tone for the Warriors early on, and although they slipped up for the final 20 minutes of the first half, he remained an ever-present figure in chopping down the big Bulls ball carriers until his departure in the 46th minute. Runner-up: Cormac Izuchukwu – Ulster Rugby

5. Ruan Vermaak – Vodacom Bulls

A Springbok in the making, of that there is no doubt! The 6’7″ powerhouse is the fulcrum with which the Bulls pack pivots. Whilst the likes of his younger teammates Reinhardt Ludwig and Cameron Hanekom have hoovered up the plaudits, Vermaak has been dominant all season. Throw into the mix his ability to play in the backrow, and one gets a true picture of a player seemingly custom-built to fit into a Springbok set-up that places a premium on versatility. Facing an experienced Glasgow pack on the weekend, Vermaak went toe-to-toe with the Warriors for the full 80 and was ensured the Bulls set piece remained rock solid throughout. Runner-up: Jason Jenkins – Leinster Rugby

4. RG Snyman – Munster Rugby

From one potential Springbok to an established one, Snyman has an uncanny knack of being ready for the business end of a season and will be sorely missed by Munster when he departs. Whilst his physicality is well-publicised, his ability to link up play with a clever pass or offload is arguably his greatest strength. Starting his first game at Thomond Park since signing in 2020, Snyman combined with Ireland star Tadhg Beirne to show Munster fans what they’ve been robbed of due to his cruel run of injuries. Playing in a tetchy derby match against Connacht, Snyman blew up the Galway side’s rucking game and, in doing so, freed up the likes of Beirne and Peter O’Mahony to go after the turnover on a regular basis.  Runner-up: Thomas Ahern – Munster Rugby 

3. Tadhg Furlong – Leinster Rugby

Back to his marauding best, Furlong is once again one of, if not THE very best, tighthead props in the world. Still somehow just 31 years old, which in prop years is a mere 16 years old, Furlong is absolutely crucial to both Leinster and Ireland over the next four years. His ability to link up play with a clever pass is unlike any other prop in the game, but his defensive physicality in the Jacques Nienaber system is off the charts. Against the Ospreys, he continued on from where he left in the Champions Cup as a rock-solid scrummager and was heavily involved in the Leinster running game. Excuse us if we sound like we are getting carried away, but the Wexford man will undoubtedly go down as the greatest prop in Irish Rugby history. Runner-up: Simone Ferrari – Benetton Rugby

2. Niall Scannell – Munster Rugby

Timing in life is key; unfortunately for Scannell, he is living in an era of unmatched hooker depth in Irish Rugby. Despite this, the 32-year-old remains the best option for Munster with Diarmuid Barron out injured and looks to be thoroughly enjoying his time under Graham Rowntree. With the Leinster duo of Sheehan and Kelleher locked in as the first choices for the national team, Scannell is arguably putting himself in the shop window as the third choice for the upcoming tour to South Africa. Against Connacht, his line-out throwing was on point, whilst his defensive and mauling capabilities are up there with the best of them. Runner-up: Akker van der Merwe – Vodacom Bulls

1. Ox Nché – Hollywoodbets Sharks

SALADS DON’T WIN SCRUMS! You’re damn right Ox! Despite the capitulation of those around him, the Bok loosehead remains ever present as a world-class operator. Facing a stiff challenge against an in-form Benetton front row, Nché was one of the few Sharks forwards to come away with his reputation intact. Mirroring the national team, he was pulled off early. When he was on the pitch during his first-half stint, he dominated at scrum time and was an ever-present threat around the breakdown. Runner-up: Pierre Schoemann – Edinburgh Rugby

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