Ken Borland
Sports Journalist
3 minute read
4 May 2021
10:22 am

SA players to line-up for Europe’s big rugby cup finals

Ken Borland

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has plenty of overseas-based options to consider ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour.

Cheslin Kolbe of Toulouse in action against Bordeaux-Begles during the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final at the weekend. Picture: Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

Europe seems to be the new proving ground where several South African rugby players go to be transformed from boys to men and the squad lists for the four teams that will contest the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals later this month shows Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has plenty of overseas-based options to consider ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour.

The Champions Cup final at Twickenham on 22 May will be an all-French affair after Toulouse beat Bourdeaux-Begles 21-9 and La Rochelle overcame Leinster 32-23 in the semi-finals at the weekend.

The Challenge Cup final will be like a curtain-raiser as it will also be played at Twickenham, on 21 May, with Leicester, who beat Ulster 33-24, taking on Montpellier, who were 19-10 victors over Bath.

Among the players to have shown their readiness to make the step up are Jasper Wiese, the former Free State player, who has put in numerous storming displays from eighthman for Leicester and the 25-year-old is strongly tipped to be part of the Springbok squad.

Rugby player Jasper Wiese

Jasper Wiese of Leicester Tigers could be a surprise Springbok pick for the British and Irish Lions series. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

There are two other loose-forwards who have featured prominently in Europe this season in the shape of Hanro Liebenberg, the former Bulls captain who has also starred for Leicester, and his older brother Wiaan, who has been an effective ball-carrier for La Rochelle.

Nico Janse van Rensburg usually plays lock for Montpellier, but he turned out in the No 6 jersey in their semi-final and is making the most of his chances with the French club.

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But it is the players who are already Springboks who will be most keenly watched come finals weekend.

Top of that list will be flyhalf Handre Pollard, who played for the first time in eight months when he came off the bench in the final quarter for Montpellier, and kicked a penalty to ensure victory.

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who won a couple of trademark turnovers, and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach also came off the bench for the French club, while Johan Goosen, who is heading for the Bulls at the end of the season, started at outside centre.

South Africans playing for Montpellier

South African players, from left, Cobus Reinach, Bismarck du Plessis and Handre Pollard (22), will all feature for Montpellier in a major European rugby cup final later this month. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

Cheslin Kolbe, whose hot-stepping feet dazzled once again in the semi-final, and utility forward Rynhardt Elstadt are the Springboks who have helped Toulouse to the final, while Dillyn Leyds and Raymond Rhule are two almost forgotten Springboks who have been key players in the La Rochelle backline.

South Africans in the European finalists’ squads

Leicester – Jasper Wiese, Cyle Brink, Luan de Bruin, Hanro Liebenberg, Jaco Taute, Kobus van Wyk.

Montpellier – Bismarck du Plessis, Johan Goosen, Henry Immelman, Nico Janse van Rensburg, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach, Jan Serfontein.

Toulouse – Cheslin Kolbe, Rynhardt Elstadt.

La Rochelle – Dillyn Leyds, Raymond Rhule, Wiaan Liebenberg.