Champions Cup: Seven South African players to watch in the last-16 including Siya Kolisi, Steven Kitshoff and Kurt-Lee Arendse
Ahead of the weekend’s Champions Cup round-of-16 action we pick out seven South African players to watch, including some seasoned campaigners and excitement machines.
The Stormers head into this round’s matches in good form while the Bulls and the Sharks have been struggling of late.
However, all three sides have big-game players in their ranks who will be expected to the lead the way against their respective opponents.
South Africa’s fans’ favourite claimed this week that he has not been playing well enough and looks to sort that out when the Sharks take on Munster in Durban on Saturday.
That self-assessment might be harsh as he has spent some time resting and in the Springbok training camp. However, there is little time for rust, and the flanker will need to be at his best this weekend as the high-powered Sharks must make some steps forward in an overall underwhelming season.
Kolisi is world class, and he will bring work rate and physicality, which will inevitably result in his form coming right. The 31-year-old is a passionate player and leader, so expect the Bok skipper to put in a blockbuster performance this weekend.
While the Stormers have caught the eye with their outstanding attacking play, especially from their backline, it all begins up front with their forwards where players like their captain Kitshoff has laid a solid foundation.
The 31-year-old returned to action in last weekend’s draw with Leinster in the URC – after taking his break due to South Africa’s resting protocols for their national players – but despite his lengthy period without the game, Kitshoff hit the ground running with a superb all-round display.
As usual, Kitshoff stood out with solid scrummaging but his general play was also outstanding and he impressed with his leadership skills. All these qualities will be important if the Stormers want to get the better of Harlequins in what should to be a thrilling showdown between two entertaining sides.
The rapid Springbok outside back is a constant threat with ball in hand and has continued his good form from 2022 into this year.
The full-back has been a shining light in an underperforming Bulls side, constantly looking to find ways to exploit defensive lines and doing so with aplomb in conjunction with partner in crime Canan Moodie.
Arendse’s running ability is up there with the best in the world, as his ability to beat defenders is simply remarkable.
The Bulls need X-factor to have a shot against the mighty French giants Toulouse, and if anyone can provide it, Arendse is the man.
Although he is just 20 years old, Moodie plays with a maturity beyond his years and will be one of the Bulls’ strike weapons when they face a tough battle against Toulouse on Sunday.
Equally at home on the wing or at full-back, Moodie’s attacking combination with Arendse is amongst the best in the business, as illustrated against Ulster last week when Moodie created something out of nothing before offloading to Arendse, who rounded off in style.
More of that will be needed against Toulouse this weekend from the Springbok duo, who will have to be at their best against a Toulouse side who boast the likes of Six Nations Player of the Year Antoine Dupont and half-back partner Romain Ntamack in their ranks.
Moodie will relish that challenge and don’t be surprised if he makes his mark with another excellent attacking display.
The recently capped Springbok has powered into 2023 magnificently and underlined just how important he is to the Stormers’ set-up. There is a notable difference in the side’s potency when Libbok is not fielded.
As one who thrives in an attacking set-up, the fly-half faces a like mind this week in Marcus Smith as the two playmakers match-up. It will be an intriguing battle, and whilst Smith has more international experience, it would be hard to doubt Libbok’s influence at his home ground.
The Bok must have his kicking boots on, as every point will count on Saturday. Expect Libbok to look to play his game and pull the strings in Cape Town.
Like the Bulls, the Sharks have been struggling of late but despite the Durban-based outfit’s dip in form, Etzebeth has not been affected as he has spent the past month on the sidelines due to the Springboks’ rest protocols.
When he has been in action, however, Etzebeth has been one of the Sharks’ shining lights in the URC as well as the Champions Cup, with his superb athleticism in the execution of his core duties amongst the standout features in his game.
It was therefore not surprising that he was crowned as South Africa’s Player of the Year for 2022 at the start of this year as he has been a stalwart for the Durban-based side since joining them from Toulon last October and also delivered excellent performances for the Springboks at Test level.
Adding to that, his excellent play in the latter competition was also rewarded when he was one of four Sharks – along with Kolisi, Makazole Mapimpi and Jaden Hendrikse – to be nominated for the 2023 EPCR Player of the Year award.
After spending several weeks on the sidelines, the 25-year-old returned to action for the Stormers in their 22-22 draw with Leinster last weekend and showed how important he is to their cause with another polished display.
Blessed with plenty of pace and an excellent attacking skill-set, Dayimani has thrived in the Stormers’ free-flowing style of play and has shown glimpses of his brilliance in the Champions Cup this season.
What made his latest performance against Leinster at the RDS Arena so good is that it was in difficult conditions with a swirling wind blowing throughout the game while there was also rain pelting down occasionally. On Saturday, the Stormers host Harlequins in their round-of-16 encounter in Cape Town where sunny weather is predicted which means it could be a day where Daymani will be very influential as he gets an opportunity to show off his vast array of skills.
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