Super Rugby

Super Rugby round 2 gold goes to ... Aphelele Fassi

Aphelele Fassi (AFP)
Aphelele Fassi (AFP)

Cape Town - Here is my personal choice, in a round-by-round exercise, of South African players to lead the charge for excellence in the second week of Super Rugby 2020.

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GOLD: Aphelele Fassi (Sharks)

Several Sharks players sizzled in Dunedin on Friday ... but fullback Fassi, by my book, best exemplified the stated commitment of new head coach Sean Everitt to striking fast from opposition mistakes.

There is pace galore in the current Sharks team (certainly not confined just to the backline, either) and the long-striding, 1.86m Fassi, who somehow looks taller than that, is right up at the head of the field.

The recently-turned 22-year-old was also very much the "cherry on top" player in the superb 42-20 disposal of the Highlanders, his thrilling brace of tries in the final eight minutes putting the seal very firmly on the win ... and confirming in the process what durability and energy he possesses from the last line of defence.

Instrumental earlier in the tee-up of Makazole Mapimpi’s first of his own two dot-downs before the break, it was Fassi's turn to wow late on.

First he cleverly brought under control an awkwardly loose, bouncing ball in the 73nd minute after a Highlanders player lost control of it, then quickly stepped beautifully to dodge an immediate tackle before exploding out of the blocks to romp over.

Not done yet, his last contribution of the match was a brilliant bit of footwork to both stop a Highlanders kick-through and begin a "counter-dribble" of his own: he then picked up the ball in a flash and sprinted elegantly through a gap toward the left corner, including in his artistry a wicked hand-off of home team substitute scrumhalf Kayne Hammington as he dived over at the flag.

Game-breaker extraordinaire? Oh, you bet ...

SILVER: Tyrone Green (Lions)

Largely industrial rather than awe-inspiring in its construction, the Lions at least registered their first victory of the season (27-20) in their wet-field home encounter with the Reds.

The stop-start nature of the match did little to help any fluency from either fairly ordinary-looking outfit ... but if anyone was going to get almost full marks for unrelenting levels of crackle and pop before a depressingly tiny turnout at Ellis Park, it was the Lions' right wing tyro Green.

While the 21-year-old is hardly the biggest back-three specimen you will ever see in professional rugby, he had already been cultivating a reputation for his sheer zest, dynamism and courage, and Saturday afternoon was no different.

The Jeppe High School product was on the scoreboard early, coolly latching onto Elton Jantjies' deft stab-kick in the seventh minute to apply the finishing touch, and in business again nine minutes later.

Then in the third quarter, he came within a whisker of registering a memorable hat-trick, putting his 88kg frame firmly on the line as he did everything he could to evade the desperate, hard challenge on him from experienced, powerful marker and Wallaby star Henry Speight and squeeze over in the right corner.

It took replays to show that he had just been forced to put a foot on the touchline before dotting.

Still, Green thoroughly earned his pay packet on the gloomy day ... which was more than you could say for many others in the forgettable fixture.

BRONZE: Ruhan Nel (Stormers)

The official player-of-the-match mantle in the grimly chiselled-out 13-0 triumph over the Bulls went to Stormers hooker Scarra Ntubeni: there have been many less worthy recipients in rugby, as he played a fulsome role in the home team’s second great defensive shut-out - a nil on the enemy's scoresheet - in a row.

But a game desperately low on creative, joyous fare needed its little moments of inspiration to lighten it up in the challenging late-summer heat, and outside centre Nel provided a memorable one of those.

With the Stormers a tenuous 3-0 to the good and halftime only some two minutes away, he vitally caught the Bulls unawares by astutely taking a tap-penalty from near the halfway line, transferring play in a jiffy to deep in the away side's quarter and leading to a penalty against them in the scramble back.

From it, the Capetonians were able to engineer one of their famed rolling mauls off a lineout for Ntubeni to register a try, ensuring a vital cushion of more than one score at the break (8-0).

I thought the Sevens-proficient, strongly-built Nel - who also sports an under-rated swerve - again looked compelling in midfield alongside Jamie Roberts, revelling in the ageing Welsh legend’s cerebral qualities and calming influence in the inside channel.

He was among many Stormers players commendably quick and pincer-like off the line, throughout, in a defensive capacity.

*Agree? Disagree? Let me hear your own SA player 'podium' thoughts from the weekend on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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