SARugbymag.co.za looks at five players who stood out in the opening weekend of South Africa’s domestic Super Rugby Unlocked.
Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks)
After a quiet game, by his standards, in the Super Fan Saturday loss to the Vodacom Bulls, Notshe was back to his best against the Lions, putting in a man-of-the-match display to help the Sharks start their campaign with a win.
As expected, Notshe was tireless with ball in hand, playing the full 80 minutes and making 68 metres from six carries – the most of any player involved in the match – while he also beat two defenders, made two linebreaks and offloaded once.
On defence, Notshe completed all seven his attempted tackles and won a turnover as the Sharks were forced to defend their lead with the Lions growing in confidence on attack.
Notshe’s loose-forward partner and former Junior Springbok captain, Phendulani Buthelezi, also shone for the Sharks, making 49m from seven carries and playing a role in their only try of the match, while debutant Manie Libbok was as safe as houses under the high ball at fullback and beat five defenders.
Frans Steyn (Cheetahs)
In his long-awaited official debut for the Cheetahs, Steyn brought everything that spectators would have wanted from the Springbok veteran.
In an influential performance Steyn was not only a sheer physical presence in the Cheetahs midfield, but also freed others up on his outside as the Cheetahs scored eight tries against the Pumas.
Steyn also used his trademark cannon boot to good effect, putting in a number of long-range clearances, but also brought a subtle element to that with a couple of well-placed grubbers to keep the Pumas on the back foot.
In total, on attack, Steyn made nine carries for 18m, beating three defenders while he also made 11 passes and assisted two tries.
A nod also needs to go to the Cheetahs back three of Clayton Blommetjies, Malcolm Jaer – scorer a memorable hat-trick – and Rosko Specman, who exploited every bit of space afforded them.
In his return to the Cheetahs, Specman made a massive total of 154m from nine carries, making three linebreaks and he too could have had a hat-trick but unselfishly gave one of his three try-scoring opportunities to captain Ruan Pienaar.
Neil Maritz (Pumas)
In a game where the Pumas largely struggled, Maritz was one of the few players who gave their fans anything to shout about.
The 26-year-old former Sharks wing came to life in the second half as the Pumas looked to put some respect on the scoreline. He was one of the few genuine threats that the Cheetahs faced, even though the game was done and dusted by that stage.
Maritz, who has a sevens contract for 2021 and 2022, made 39m from five carries and beat a total of six defenders (the most of any play in round one) and got a deserved try when he sliced through the Cheetahs defence in the final minute of play.
Marco van Staden (Vodacom Bulls)
The Bulls were largely disappointing despite their opening victory over Griquas and were flattered by scoring 30 points. There was an expectation that Jake White’s team would run away with the match, until they were met by an agressive Griquas defence which enabled the men from Kimberley to build a foundation from which they twice led in the match.
As White pointed out in his post-match media conference, the Bulls decided to change tactics at half time and opt for a more direct approach in the second half. This was where Van Staden shone as he brought a robustness to the Bulls’ play.
The three-capped Springbok flank made a total of 13 carries – more than any other Bulls player – and beat five defenders, making a total of 33m. On defence, he missed none of his nine tackles and won a turnover for his side.
It was a performance that was similar to Francois Louw at his best. With a Louw-sized hole in the Springbok squad – following the veteran’s retirement from all rugby this year – Van Staden showed that he can be an apt replacement if he can build on this performance.
Zak Burger (Griquas)
Easily identifiable by his throwback mullet, Burger was at the heart of everything good that Griquas did against the Bulls and was deservedly named man of the match despite ending up on the losing side.
The 22-year-old former Junior Bok and Sharks player played the full 80 minutes and was quick to the breakdown, ensuring Griquas made the most of their possession at Loftus.
On attack, Burger made 44 passes, but was also a threat around the fringes, making six carries and one clean break. On defence, Burger completed six of his 10 tackle attempts and was one of a number of Griquas players to win a turnovers as they flooded the breakdown.
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images