SARugbymag.co.za looks at the South African players who could be key for their respective clubs as the English Premiership restarts this weekend.
The competition is set to resume on Friday with what could be an enthralling clash as the second-placed Sale Sharks take on Harlequins, currently in seventh place.
As the competition is full of talented South African players, we look at who could really be key to ensuring their side achieve their targets throughout the rest of the season.
Position: 7th (28 points)
One of four South Africans to join Harlequins in the off-season, Esterhuizen switched Durban for London in moving from the Sharks.
The 26-year-old Springbok centre will not only add a bit of muscle to Harlequins’ midfield, but he also brings an underrated skill set and a massive boot to aid their kicking game.
Given that Harlequins lost an astonishing 19 players during the enforced break, Esterhuizen will also add plenty of experience to the team.
While he and fellow South African Wilco Louw will miss the first weekend of the Premiership restart due to visa issues, Esterhuizen will make a big impact when he is able to link up with his new teammates.
Harlequins pulled off a real coup by signing the 26-year-old Springbok tighthead, who is looking for a starting role after playing behind Frans Malherbe at the Stormers.
Louw’s signature could be even more important for Harlequins, given that they lost England international tighthead Kyle Sinckler to the Bristol Bears during the break.
Having recently made his 50th appearance for the Stormers, Louw has the experience to prove a vital cog in Harlequins’ scrum.
Somewhat surprisingly, Green made the decision to sign for Harlequins in the break after having just broken into the starting lineup at the Lions.
The 22-year-old back, who is most comfortable at fullback but can play at wing and even centre, has a tremendous set of skills and an aggressive edge about him, especially on defence.
With Harlequins having bid farewell to promising young English wing Gabriel Ibitoye, there will be plenty of opportunities for Green to fire during the rest of the season.
A lower-profile signing than the other three South Africans, Els joined Harlequins from English Championship side Ealing Trailfinders.
The 23-year-old, 120kg loosehead came through at the Sharks before deciding to further his career in England.
After signing Els, Harlequins coach Paul Gustard remarked that he was impressed with Els’ movement and handling skills.
With Joe Marler and Santi Garcia Botta in the Harlequins squad, Els may not get too much of an opportunity this season, but has made a good decision to learn from two of the Premiership’s best loosehead props.
Position: 8th (28 points)
Scotland-capped Dell is one of two South Africans in the London Irish squad, as experienced locks Franco van der Merwe and Ruan Botha as well as prop Pat Cilliers left the club during the break.
The 28-year-old loosehead prop joined from Edinburgh at the beginning of the season and has most been used from the bench, making just two starts this season.
However, given the sheer number of players that have departed, Dell will get more starting opportunities in the second half of the season and be looking to help the Exiles finish strongly.
Position: 9th (26th)
For the first time in his professional career, Ruan Ackermann will not be coached by his father after Johan left his role as Gloucester head coach to take up a similar posting with Japanese side the Red Hurricanes.
Gloucester have had a disappointing season as they have won just four of their 13 games to date, but are still in the mix for a creditable top-six finish as they trail Bath by four points.
Ackermann’s importance to Gloucester is illustrated by the fact that he has played just once as a substitute this season and has alternated between all three back-row positions.
The 24-year-old is on track to better his impressive 2018-29 season, as he has already made 123 tackles with a 93% success rate and clocked 117 carries making an average of over two metres per carry.
One of the unsung heroes of Gloucester’s season, Marais has stepped his game up after his debut Premiership season in 2018-19.
The former Sharks hooker has started 12 of Gloucester’s 13 games so far this season and made a big impact, especially on defence as he has made 151 tackles (27 more than the whole of last season) with a success rate of 93%.
Marais has also managed to win eight turnovers and make 88 carries with five offloads. The 27-year-old signed a short-term contract extension allowing him to finish the Premiership season before he moves to Japan.
Position: 10th (22 points)
Cornell du Preez
Continuing his remarkable comeback from a fractured larynx suffered in his debut Premiership season in 2018, Du Preez has started 12 out of the Worcester Warriors’ 13 games this season.
What’s more, the 29-year-old won his place back in the Scotland squad for the 2020 Six Nations through his consistent form for the Warriors at No 8.
Du Preez has made 154 tackles so far this season, averaging just over 12 tackles per match, with a 90% completion rate. On attack, Du Preez has made 114 carries, beating 19 defenders and passing the ball 110 times.
If he continues his form through the latter stages of the season, Du Preez is sure to earn his place in the Scotland squad for the rest of the Six Nations in October.
Currently in his fifth season with the Warriors, Hougaard has been as reliable as ever for his side. Despite struggling with a foot injury at the beginning of the year, the 32-year-old has started nine games for Worcester, coming off the bench once this season.
Hougaard’s status as the mainstay scrumhalf is unlikely to come under too much threat as his abrasive style of play has had him average just under three metres per carry, with a total of 63 carries this season, with five clean breaks and 14 defenders beaten.
Venter has endured a tough start to life with the Warriors since joining from the Cheetahs in 2018. The Springbok centre initially struggled to adapt to his new surroundings in Worcester, despite making 24 appearances in his first season with the club.
His second season has not been that much easier as successive calf and ankle injuries have restricted Venter to just five appearances this season, two of those from the bench.
Despite the difficulties and disruptions, Venter has still shown glimpses of the form that earned him a Springbok call-up, with an impressive performance against Harlequins last year and Bath this year.
Having recently signed a new deal to keep him at Worcester until 2022, a fully-fit Venter will be key to ensuring the club rises to a top-eight finish.
Position: 10th (20 points)
One of three South Africans to join the struggling Leicester Tigers during the break – including former Cheetahs flank Jasper Wiese – Brink is working his way back from an achillies tendon injury he suffered while playing for the Lions at the beginning of the year, but is expected to be back on the field in the current season.
It has been another frustrating year for the 26-year-old loose forward, though, who has been kept out of rugby due to successive injuries after his outstanding breakthrough year in 2018 – which he was called up to the Springboks.
However, if that 2018 Vodacom Super Rugby season showed anything, it’s that the Tigers may have just signed a gem of a player. Brink averaged over six metres per carry in 2018, clocking a massive 241m and beating 20 defenders.
If Brink can reach those rights again, Leicester will certainly rise on the table.
Despite Leicester’s struggles this season, Liebenberg has enjoyed a solid first season at the club.
Playing mainly at blindside flank, the 24-year-old suffered an ankle injury last November but recovered and was able to clock four more starts before the season was halted.
Liebenberg currently averages just over two metres per carry and has a tackle success rate of 86%, but could get better with consistent game time.
Also currently in his first season with Leicester after joining from Irish side Munster last year, Taute has been quietly efficient in the Tigers midfield.
The 29-year-old has made six starts – partly due to a knee injury he suffered in February – and has made 23 carries for 60m.
Taute’s experience will be even more vital to Leicester in the restart, given that the club bid England international Manu Tuilagi farewell in the break.
Kobus van Wyk
Among the host of new players that have been brought into Leicester, Van Wyk decided to leave the Hurricanes – where he has been in excellent form – for a move to the north.
The 28-year-old has revitalised his career in New Zealand after struggling for game time at the Sharks, scoring four tries to finish tied in second place on the Super Rugby Aotearoa try-scorers list.
Leicester fans will be eager to see if Van Wyk can translate that form into the Premiership, which is very much a different competition with its own challenges.
Position: 11th (-63 points)
The Springbok tighthead prop has been heavily involved for Saracens since returning from the 2019 World Cup, making nine appearances until the season was halted.
Koch’s defensive work rate has been incredible for Saracens in the Premiership as he has made 60 tackles with a 95% completion rate.
The 30-year-old has yet to have his future officially confirmed, but is believed to be prepared to stay with Saracens and help them fight for promotion from the Championship next season.
Barritt is set to bring his time with Saracens to an end, having signed a short-term extension to keep him at the London club until the end of the current season.
Having been with the club since 2008, the Saracens skipper will be keen to end his stay on a high note, despite that Saracens have little more than pride to play for in the Premiership.
Even though the 34-year-old is not the flashiest of players, his leadership and commitment on the defensive line will be missed when he leaves.
Having been laid off by a long-term back injury, Rhodes has been restricted to making just appearance off the bench for Saracens this season.
However, the 32-year-old forward will have recovered and be fresh from signing a new deal to stay at Saracens during their stint in the Championship next season.
With just one cap to earn to reach 100 appearances for Saracens, Rhodes will be looking to making his mark on the field when the season resumes.
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