Bokrometer: Siya Masuku throws down Springbok selection gauntlet as Eben Etzebeth’s captaincy qualities shine

Jared Wright
Siya Masuku kicking and the Sharks celebrating their Challenge Cup final victory.

Siya Masuku kicking and the Sharks celebrating their Challenge Cup final victory.

It was finals time in club rugby this weekend as the start of the Springboks’ Test season draws ever nearer.

The weekend’s action served as a crucial platform for Bok boss Rassie Erasmus to gauge how potential stars perform under the pressure that closely mirrors Test rugby.

Following the weekend’s action, we recap how some of the Springbok hopefuls fared.

Siya Masuku

It’s surely just a matter of time now until we see Siya Masuku in a Springbok jersey. Damian Willemse’s injury has only increased the Sharks star’s chances but he is letting his performance do the talking too.

The 27-year-old put in a measured display, steering the Sharks’ attack wonderfully en route to their maiden Challenge Cup title, downing Gloucester 36-22 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

He slotted eight of his nine shots at goal for a remarkable 21-point haul and added two try assists, playing a direct role in all but five of the Sharks’ points on the night.

Masuku will be available to Erasmus for the Test match against Wales, and after many backed Sanele Nohamba to start the clash in the number ten jumper, the Sharks star looks to have shot up to the top of the queue, particularly if Manie Libbok is not eligible.

The ball is now in Erasmus’ court.

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Grant Williams

Staying with the Challenge Cup victors and Masuku’s halfback partner was just as brilliant on Friday evening. While Williams is renowned for his blistering pace, it was the kicking game that impressed in London as he got excellent hang time on his high balls, allowing for Eben Etzebeth and co. to pile on the pressure.

He was confident in his decision-making, too, and put in a statement shift that he was not letting his grip on a Bok jersey slip.

Vincent Koch

Player of the match on Friday as Vincent Koch flexed his BMT yet again, adding a Challenge Cup trophy to his impressive haul that includes two Champions Cup and two World Cup titles.

Erasmus has expressed his need to push through youth with an ageing squad winning the World Cup in 2023, but Koch is making it incredibly difficult to ignore him with a masterclass scrummaging performance.

He was also outstanding in open play, providing a stunning assist to Phepsi Buthelezi and kicking a glorious 50:22.

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Eben Etzebeth

With Lukhanyo Am sidelined for the final, Eben Etzebeth was entrusted with the captain’s armband for the clash against Gloucester, and the Bok lock did not disappoint.

It wasn’t just because the Sharks came out on top that Etzebeth’s return to the captaincy should be lauded, but also because of the manner in which he interacted with referee Matthieu Raynal. One of his reactions to a call was caught on camera, but on the whole, he was respectful and asked the officials tough questions – a crucial requirement of a Test skipper in the modern era.

He was also sensational around the park, landing thumping hits, chasing high balls superbly, and putting in a nigh-on flawless performance.

Ethan Hooker

Filling the void of Am is no easy task but Ethan Hooker certainly made it look that way despite carrying a niggle in the week leading to the final.

The Sharks’ rookie kept British and Irish Lions centre Chris Harris at bay for most of the final with some sharp and accurate decisions in defence while also providing some grunt with the ball in hand. Perhaps 2024 may be too soon for the rising star, with Damian de Allende and Andre Esterhuizen set to dominate the number 12 Bok jersey, but he is certainly in the mix going forward.

Bok front-rowers

After singling out Koch, it would be remiss not to mention the rest of the Sharks’ brilliant Springboks front-rowers.

Ox Nche and Bongi Mbonambi were just as crucial as the set-piece comfortably got the better of the Cherry and Whites, with Ntuthuko Mchunu picking up from where Nche left off.

Bok hopefuls Fezokuhle Mbatha and Hanro Jacobs were just as impactful off the bench, making the scrums a nightmare for Gloucester all game long.

Phepsi Buthelezi

Lastly, from the Sharks, Phepsi Buthelezi outplayed his opposite number, Zach Mercer, in Tottenham, scoring a brilliant try from a scrumptious dummy.

There are suggestions that his Test future may lie on the side of the scrum, but he was excellent at the back on Friday, particularly with the ball in hand as the Sharks raced into the history books.

Damian de Allende

After a starring role in the Wild Knights’ semi-final victory last week scoring a crucial try, Damian de Allende was unable to inspire his charges to victory in the Japanese Rugby League One final on Sunday.

The Knights went the entire season unbeaten before coming undone in the final, but it was not of his doing as he put in yet another tidy shift.

He racked up 11 tackles, a turnover and hammered into the Brave Lupus defence for eight carries, passing 10 times. He beat seven defenders, but ultimately, his fine performance was not enough as they fell to a 20-24 defeat.

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Kwagga Smith

This is not an update on the superstar back-rower’s performance but rather an injury one as he confirmed to Rapport this weekend that he is fit and raring to go against Ireland this July.

Smith has been sidelined since January with an injury but is timing his return to fitness perfectly for the Springboks in a boost to their back-row stocks, particularly after Jasper Wiese’s six-game ban.

 

Ruan Ackermann

The ex-Lions loose forward had one of his quieter games against the Sharks but has been in strong form for Gloucester this season.

However, Ackermann was not called into England’s training squad despite now being qualified to represent the Red Rose. He revealed earlier this year that he still hopes to represent the Springboks but has also been on Steve Borthwick’s radar.

Fresh reports suggest that he may leave for Japan after this season despite recently signing a contract extension at Gloucester, and perhaps those are true considering his England snub, or will he be called to South Africa next month?

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