With the European and American domestic seasons having come to an end, MARIETTE ADAMS picks a team of the best-performing South Africans abroad.
15. Cheslin Kolbe
Has there been a better or more consistent player across any of the domestic leagues in Europe, not to mention the Champions Cup, this season? If so, point me to him because I didn’t notice. Cheslin Kolbe was at the heart of Toulouse’s rise back to the top echelon of French rugby when they surged to a record-extending 20th Top 14 title with Kolbe prominent in their run to the Champions Cup semi-finals.
14. Kyle Steyn
Former Griquas captain Kyle Steyn has taken the Pro14 by storm. His meteoric rise – from outside man to trusted lieutenant – in the Glasgow Warriors ranks has firmly put him in the conversation for selection in Scotland’s World Cup squad.
13. Juan de Jongh
Wasps blew hot and cold in an underwhelming season with them finishing a disappointing ninth on the log and missing out on a semi-final berth for the first time in four seasons. That said, Juan de Jongh was one of their better players this season, even more so than Willie le Roux.
12. Jan Serfontein
Jan Serfontein has had his share of injury troubles, but he still had an impressive season for Montpellier, whose backline was more settled with him than without. His smooth distributing skills undoubtedly made life easier for those playing outside and inside him.
11. Duhan van der Merwe
With the exception of Kolbe in full flight, there has been no better sight than Duhan van der Merwe on the charge ready to torment defences. The 26-year-old, who is the younger brother of Bok hooker Akker, played 23 games across all competitions for Edinburgh, with a 10-try return.
10. Jaco van der Walt
With several match-winning contributions, Jaco van der Walt turned out to be the hero Edinburgh never knew they needed. In 22 appearances this season, he scored 153 points courtesy of his accurate kicking boot.
9. Faf de Klerk
Picking between Faf de Klerk and Cobus Reinach was the toughest part of compiling this list. Both have been in other-worldly form for the Sale Sharks and Northampton Saints, respectively. They set the benchmark so high, no other scrumhalf in the English Premiership – let alone in other overseas-based leagues – are close to competing at their level. Reinach’s 11 tries helped the Saints reach the playoffs, but De Klerk has been equally – if not more – influential in a misfiring Sale side. I went with De Klerk simply because he is the incumbent Springbok No 9 and because I hope his form will carry over to the looming Test season.
8. Marcell Coetzee
Having signed for Ulster in 2016, it took Marcell Coetzee the best part of three years to finally settle down and do the job required of him. The 28-year-old has battled back from two career-threatening injuries to make a valuable contribution to Ulster’s campaign, clocking 1 558 minutes without missing a beat.
7. Nizaam Carr
Like compatriot De Jongh, Nizaam Carr was one of the few bright sparks for Wasps. Admittedly, Carr wasn’t as effective at the breakdown as he would have liked to be, but his contributions elsewhere were immense. He was given more freedom when on the ball and Carr made the most of the challenge, making 13 clean breaks, beating 30 defenders and completing 15 offloads.
6. Ruan Ackermann
Ruan Ackermann still relishes the physical stuff now as much as during his days at the Lions, with that again evident this past season when his combative nature shone through. The club expected big things from Ackermann and he didn’t disappoint.
5. Franco Mostert
Following a tug of war between the Lions and Gloucester over his services, Franco Mostert eventually left the Lions under a cloud in November last year. But the ugly spat seemingly had little impact on his transition. The lock has slotted in seamlessly at Gloucester to make the No 5 jersey his own. Providing much-needed grunt to Gloucester’s pack coupled with his unmatched lineout prowess, Mostert’s first six months at the club has seen him hit the form of his life.
4. Michael Rhodes
Being one of the key players in a star-studded Saracens squad is a sign of Michael Rhodes’ quality. Despite being utilised as a loose forward and lock, he did whatever coach Mark McCall asked of him. With his versatility on display week in and week out, it’s no wonder he is being mentioned in national context for England.
3. Vincent Koch
Vincent Koch is another one of those players who suddenly found another gear once they start playing abroad. In his third season for Saracens, no tighthead has made as big an impact on set-piece play as Koch did. One hopes his purple patch extends to when he pulls on the Bok jersey.
2. Bismarck du Plessis (c)
Top-performing South Africa hookers are a rare breed overseas. That said, you can always count on Bismarck du Plessis to do a stellar job. Montpellier did and that’s exactly what they got. The 35-year-old missed the first half of the season due to injury, but came back strongly in the second half of the campaign. Limited to only eight appearances, Du Plessis burrowed over for five tries, while his stats in open play will put some with way more game time to shame.
1. Pierre Schoeman
In his debut season in a foreign environment, Pierre Schoeman was outstanding for Edinburgh. He anchored the Scottish side’s scrum and was defensively strong. Schoeman – a far cry from the player who copped a six-week ban for biting an opponent in Super Rugby last year – made such a lasting impression that he was voted Edinburgh’s Player of the Year and Best Newcomer, while also cracking the nod in the official Pro14 Dream Team of the season.
Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images