United Rugby Championship: Seven South African players to watch during the quarter-finals including Damian Willemse, Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Johan Grobbelaar

David Skippers
South African players in United Rugby Championship QFs 2023.jpg

Now that the United Rugby Championship (URC) has reached its play-off stage, we discuss some of the South African players who are set to make an impact for their franchises in this weekend’s quarter-finals.

With plenty at stake, there are some huge encounters set to take place and these players will be in the spotlight for various reasons.

Damian Willemse (Stormers)

After spending a substantial part of the StormersURC campaign on the sidelines due to the Springboks’ rest protocols – to manage South Africa’s leading players during this Rugby World Cup year – Willemse has returned to action in recent weeks and provided an impact on attack and defence for the defending champions.

Equally at home at full-back, inside centre or fly-half, the 2019 World Cup winner is one of the tournament’s genuine superstars and will be at the forefront of the Stormers’ attack when they host the Bulls in a repeat of last year’s final on Saturday. Willemse is expected to feature at full-back or inside centre against the Bulls and his lethal combination with Manie Libbok is likely to unlock their arch rivals’ defence.

Evan Roos (Stormers)

A highly rated number eight, Roos was the star performer during last season’s inaugural tournament as he walked off with a quadruple of URC awards, including the coveted Players’ Player of the Season gong. That was after he set the tournament alight with his excellent ball carrying which gave his team much needed momentum in their successful push for the title.

He spent a large chunk of the season on the sidelines due to a knee injury but his return to action has boosted the Stormers. Due to his outstanding form from the 2021/22 campaign, the 23-year-old has found the going tougher during the current campaign as opponents have him tightly marked. Because his frustrations usually get the better of him, Roos has become involved in several off-the-ball incidents which has tarnished his reputation and he will have to cut that out of his game if the Stormers want to get the better of the Bulls on Saturday.

Frans Malherbe (Stormers)

Very much an underrated player as he plays in one of the game’s less glamourous positions, but without a doubt a vital cog in the Stormers machine as he is arguably the best tighthead prop in the world at the moment, who thrives in the execution of his core duties.

The 32-year-old is renowned for his scrummaging ability as he seldom takes a backward step at the set-piece and if he dominates that facet of play against the Bulls, it will make life easier for his team-mates who are sure to use that dominance as an attacking platform. Another player who spent several weeks on the sidelines due to the Boks’ rest protocols, Malherbe will be refreshed when they take on the Bulls with his scrummaging set to play a crucial role in the game’s outcome.

Grant Williams (Sharks)

Although the Sharks are without the services of first choice scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse, they have an able replacement in Williams who has caught the eye with several outstanding attacking performances for the Durban-based outfit this season. A one-Test Springbok, the 26-year-old is blessed with quick feet and plenty of pace which has seen him tearing defences to shreds in all competitions this season.

The Sharks qualified for the quarter-finals in eighth position which means they have it all to do as they face a mammoth challenge against table-toppers Leinster in their play-off at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. As one of the Sharks’ gamebreakers, there will be plenty of pressure on Williams to perform but he is a classy player who should provide some headaches to the Leinster defence.

Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Sharks)

With the Sharks taking on Leinster without the services of 2019 Rugby World Cup winners Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth – who are both sidelined through injury – there will be plenty of pressure on fellow Springbok Notshe to produce the goods. The back-row has been on the scene for some time and after initially shining in the colours of the Stormers, he moved to the Sharks in 2020.

Although he has spent plenty of time on the bench, with Phepsi Buthelezi preferred to him at number eight, Notshe has been a regular in Durban-based outfit’s run-on side in recent weeks and repaid the faith which Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell has shown in him. The 29-year-old enjoys running in the wide channels, where he usually wreaks havoc when combining with his backline, and he will be determined to take the fight to Leinster on Saturday.

Canan Moodie (Bulls)

Although he is just 20 years old, Moodie has established himself in the Bulls‘ starting line-up with his brilliant attacking play and he is sure to be one of the men from Pretoria’s strike weapons in their quarter-final against the Stormers.

The young Springbok’s attacking combination with Kurt-Lee Arendse is amongst the best in the business and the Stormers cannot afford to give them too much space from the back when the sides face off this weekend. A tall player, who can play on the wing or full-back, Moodie is also excellent in the air which means he usually is safe when fielding high balls from opponents and a genuine threat when the Bulls put pressure on their opponents with an aerial bombardment.

Johan Grobbelaar (Bulls)

The Bulls pride themselves on their forward play and one of their players who has showed his class with several excellent performances is Grobbelaar, who has cemented himself as the Pretoria-based outfit’s first choice hooker. The 25-year-old is a lively hooker with an impressive skill-set as he is a genuine threat with ball in hand and also adept on defence.

The forward battle against the Stormers will be huge on Saturday and Grobbelaar is expected to be in the thick of the action as Jake White’s charges attempt to gain the ascendancy against their arch rivals. Apart from his prowess on attack and defence, Another facet of play which Grobbelaar is brilliant at is his breakdown work and don’t be surprise if he poaches some balls on the ground against the men from the Cape.

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