Not all Man-of-the-Match awards are made equal. TANK LANNING and ZELIM NEL predict which South African Super Rugby player will deliver the most heroic performance in Round 2 to claim the unofficial SA Conference MVP award.
Tank picks: Alistair Vermaak (Stormers)
With the Bulls, Sharks and Lions having enjoyed fruit-bearing outings in week one, it’s the mountain goats from Cape Town who will be desperate to bounce back from their horror show in Pretoria. So I am backing one of that lot to be our second round MVP.
Quite clearly biased toward the flat-eared blocks of granite who make the referee’s job hell at scrum time, I am looking to the Carlu Sadie vs Alistair Vermaak match up as the grid-bending, cooler-box emptying head-to-head of the weekend.
Adding braai salt and a shot of tequila to the showdown is the fact that Sadie has had to move north after he was deemed surplus to company requirements in the Cape.
Both played 60 minutes in round 1, and neither gave away a scrum penalty.
Sadie, though, was part of a very dominant scrum display for the Lions vs the Jags, so much so that it took the scrum option away from the home side when they were given a midfield penalty that they needed to score from in order to get back in front on the scoreboard. He, Dylan Smith and Malcolm Marx were mightily impressive as a unit.
Sadie also won 3 turnovers and made 12 tackles, one of which was dominant.
Both are of the “brick shithouse” variety, with neither troubling the tape measure much (both around the 1.8m mark). Sadie, though, at a pretty hefty 125kg, is a full 15kgs heavier than Vermaak.
All roads lead to Carlu then?
Not so fast. At 21, Sadie is still be learning his trade, and there is a reason the Cape coaches wished him well last year. At 29, Vermaak has been around the block, and is probably the most underrated loosehead scrummager in SA. I am backing him to come out on top at Newlands.
Zels picks: Akker van der Merwe (Sharks)
SA teams claimed five wins against NZ Conference rivals last year – the Bulls beat the Hurricanes, the Stormers beat the Blues, and the Sharks beat the Blues, Highlanders and Chiefs.
In a related development, after two of the worst seasons in team history, the Springboks started to regroup in 2018 and they dug in to beat the All Blacks 36-34 in Wellington. That result snapped SA’s six-game slump against their arch-rivals and marked the first Bok victory against the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2009.
With the 2019 Rugby World Cup on the horizon, it’s imperative that SA teams continue to build on this momentum against Kiwi opponents during Super Rugby, and the Sharks will get first bite when they host the Blues on Saturday.
The Sharks have won all but one of the last 12 clashes against the Blues and the overt physicality of the east coast pack has often been decisive against a Blues team that prefers running over rumbling. This mindset was never more evident than in the Auckland side’s season-opening loss against the Crusaders at Eden Park where the Blues pack was routed by the champions’ charging maul.
The hosts at the Singapore National Stadium experienced a similar lack of traction last week as the Sharks kept the Sunwolves heavies in reverse, and Akker van der Merwe was at the tail of two lineout drives that found a parking spot in-goal.
The average margin in the Sharks-Blues fixture is 10 points, and I’ve got Van der Merwe winning MVP honours for two maul tries in a win that extends the Durbanites’ home streak to six, and banks a vital victory for SA against New Zealand.
You’ve read what they think, now let us know who you think will stand out in Round 2!