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 fourth week of Super Rugby 2020.
GOLD: Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks)
Yes, you may feel there were instantly more obvious candidates for best performer - either in the Sharks’ ranks specifically or among the South African teams more broadly - at the weekend.
Once again, the KwaZulu-Natalians’ back three (I have not been shy to tout them this season) were influential livewires in the 36-24 downing of the Rebels in Ballarat, with Makazole Mapimpi lethal all over again in the finishing department.
But in a slight go-against-the-grain approach, my supreme SA pick from the round is Notshe, the increasingly rejuvenated No 8 who is finally living up to his stunning potential as a rugby athlete.
It was one of those days where, while watching a player closely, you simply came to the realisation that almost every touch he made was constructive: indeed, he was a key facilitator for much of the Sharks’ glory-notching vibrancy in wider berths on the sun-baked pitch in “rural” Victoria.
The 26-year-old Notshe, with his natural pace and awareness, has always been a sublime linker and that came to the fore superbly in the tourists’ opening try, registered by Mapimpi but with the rangy eighth-man prominent in the build-up move with his firm gathering of a grubber and slick pass.
But there were constant other little “positives” from the former - so often fringe - Stormers customer as the helter-skelter game progressed, including pleasing amounts of physical relish and hard toil nearer the coalface.
In the past, Notshe has sometimes been reasonably prone to looking a little anonymous in tough arm-wrestles, and often against bruising positional rivals.
But his direct opponent here was big Isi Naisarani … and the 110kg Fijian significantly played second fiddle, I felt, to the hungry and committed Sharks man.
SILVER: Herschel Jantjies (Stormers)
These are still relatively difficult, less than impactful times for the undoubted footballing talent who is Damian Willemse in the Stormers flyhalf channel … he just looks a little betwixt and between, tactically speaking.
But one berth inside, at No 9, Jantjies’ development only gathers pace.
The official player of the match mantle against the Jaguares at Newlands on Saturday went to rugged Welsh inside centre Jamie Roberts, and he is ineligible for recognition in this exercise.
I would have been tempted, anyway, to grant it instead by a whisker to the baby-faced young Springbok scrumhalf.
Not only is Jantjies’ overall sense of “generalship” and decision-making on the up and up, but he is a master at alertness to situations.
That came to the fore extremely crucially in a ho-hum game looking destined to be largely try-shy until his moment of magic.
From a mere 3-0 situation in favour of the Stormers after 45 minutes, he intercepted a stray, rolling pass between two Jaguares players midway out, produced a beautiful little swerve to instantly bamboozle the gathering cover defence, and then cracked on the speed to romp over at the posts.
It was a precious game-breaker, at a time when the Argentineans might have already begun training their thoughts toward a mild-upset result …
BRONZE: Andre Esterhuizen (Sharks)
Another case, perhaps, of a slightly unsung hero in the ranks of the upbeat Sharks camp.
Esterhuizen was unusually entrusted with the captaincy against the Rebels, considering the decision to rest regular skipper and cerebral midfield partner Lukhanyo Am … and the move by head coach Sean Everitt frankly worked a near-charm.
Not only did he perform the leadership task comfortably, but the strapping inside centre yet again proved an ideal foil for some of the more whippet-like characters outside him in the back division.
With his roughly 110kg frame, which is pretty much the size of a blindside flank, Esterhuizen invariably sucks in defenders when he is taking the ball forward in contact, which then creates better opportunities for space to exploit beyond his channel.
But with the brute power he possesses, he is confident at simply having a “route one” type of personal crack at the try-line … as he successfully did on Saturday after switching play to the blindside when in possession near the Rebels’ line, and bulldozing his way over between defenders with almost consummate ease.
Esterhuizen was also instrumental in the lead-up to the fifth and final, very long-range Sharks try, with smart anticipation and an accurate off-load.
A fine afternoon for the eight-cap Bok, who clearly has earnest ongoing international aspirations.
*Agree? Disagree? Let me hear your own SA player ‘podium’ thoughts from the weekend on Twitter: @RobHouwing