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 seventh - and for the moment last - week of Super Rugby 2020.
GOLD: Thomas du Toit (Sharks)
Hardly a secret beforehand: the Stormers would greatly have wished for scrum mastery as cornerstone of a push for victory in the Super Rugby derby against the Sharks at Kings Park on Saturday.
But that seldom came to fruition as the home team’s sometimes doubted engine room rose collectively to the occasion in the Sharks’ deserved 24-14 victory.
By the finish, and admittedly after several substitutions, it was the Capetonians’ pack being snapped backwards at the set-piece - something especially noticeable when captain and Springbok loose-head Steven Kitshoff left the fray with an upper-body injury.
On that note, kingpin Kitshoff being kept in pretty good check by the Sharks’ burly tighthead Du Toit for the lion’s share of the contest was enough to convince me that this week’s gold should go to the occupant of one of rugby’s less glamorous positions.
The 135kg “Tank Engine” put in a focused shift both at scrum-time and in broader play, where the Sharks’ urgency, cohesiveness and physicality as a pack unit played a huge role in keeping the Stormers almost constantly pinned back - they had only a third of both possession and territory on the day.
Former loose-head Du Toit hasn’t always found the conversion to No 3 easy - who does? - but on Saturday’s showing he is certainly getting there, and keeping good heat on preferred Bok occupants of that berth like Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane and Vincent Koch.
SILVER: Juarno Augustus (Stormers)
Welcome back, “Trokkie”!
One bright aspect of the Stormers’ second defeat in a row was the thunderous showing from Augustus, their Duane Vermeulen-like (certainly in strong build) young eighth-man.
While still only 22, the player of the tournament at the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championship in Georgia has had an injury-blighted time in more recent first-class seasons.
But in Durban his star suddenly shone extremely brightly again, to the extent that he was even named official player-of-the-match despite the 10-point reverse for his team.
It said enough about his performance that, on the day, he outshone in-form and currently much-trumpeted direct rival Sikhumbuzo Notshe ... and Notshe wasn’t bad, despite perhaps falling victim against his former outfit to overplay in the competition to this point.
Augustus played with clattering commitment throughout, but it wasn’t just for directness that he excelled: he had a key hand in both Stormers tries with inspired breakouts and then deftly-timed offloads, reminding of more subtle qualities to his arsenal.
He must be especially regretful that the tournament goes into an uncertain break now.
BRONZE: Kerron van Vuuren (Sharks)
I have been watching the Sharks hooker closely all season, increasingly impressed by his liveliness and enthusiasm in open play.
On Saturday, Van Vuuren was one of the home players to burst most prominently from the blocks in ensuring the Sharks got an early mental foothold on the derby.
He just seemed an ever-present at rucks and was as busy in aiding constructive, linking play and aiding the tackle count.
Clearly his scrum-time work couldn’t have been too bad, either, as the Sharks front row (as described above) came to the party admirably as relative underdogs in that respect.
Now in his second season at this level for the franchise, the former Glenwood pupil cuts an increasingly confident figure in the No 2 jersey once worn with such distinction by the likes of John Smit and Bismarck du Plessis ...
*Agree? Disagree? Let me hear your own SA player ‘podium’ thoughts from the weekend on Twitter: @RobHouwing