World Cup-winning Springboks Cheslin Kolbe and Handre Pollard will lead a 21-strong South African contingent in May’s top two respective European Cup and Shield finals.
It is a credit to the quality and depth of South African rugby.
The group includes some grizzly veterans and a handful of World Cup-winning Springboks who will be crucial to the three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions.
Primary to that group are Toulouse’s Kolbe and Montpellier’s Pollard.
The Rainbow Cup South Africa started this weekend, which was the equal of two strength versus strength Currie Cup showdowns between the Bulls and Lions and Stormers and Sharks respectively.
The latter, played at 14.00 in glorious sunshine in Cape Town, was entertaining and had all the trappings of a quality contest, while the late kick-off up north was typical of those messy matches played in difficult conditions under lights.
The Springboks have not played a Test since the 32-12 World Cup final triumph against England in Tokyo, Japan, but the Boks won’t be underdone because their players lack match conditioning. To the contrary, several of the northern hemisphere-based and Japan-based national squad contenders have been going for some time and the domestic players will be primed after completing the South African version of the Rainbow Cup over the next six weeks.
Kolbe has been sensational for the last year for Toulouse, but up north it was Pollard’s return that would have had the Bok national coaching staff anxious. Pollard hadn’t played for eight months because of a serious knee injury but he produced a strong last quarter cameo, which included a late penalty, to secure Montpellier a 19-10 win against Bath and qualification to the European Challenge Cup final.
Montpellier will play England’s Leicester in the final in a match that could feature as many as 14 South African players. Those playing for Leicester include Jasper Wiese, Hanro Liebenberg, Luan de Bruin, Cycle Brink, Jaco Taute and Kobus van Wyk, while Montpellier’s South African strength is led by veteran Bismarck du Plessis, Pollard, Johan Goosen, Jaco Reinach, Jan Serfontein, South African-born and raised French international Paul Willemse, Nico Janse van Rensburg, Henry Immelmann.
The Heineken Champions Cup South Africans will be Kolbe and Rynardt Elstadt, for Toulouse, and Dillyn Leyds, Raymond Rhule, Wiaan Liebenberg and Marcel van der Merwe.
The European Cup Shield final is on the 21st May and the Heineken Champions Cup final is on the 22nd May. Both finals will be played at Twickenham in London. Crowds, of 10 000, will attend both finals.
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