Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Here is my personal choice, in a round-by-round exercise, of South African players to lead the charge for excellence in the sixth week of Super Rugby 2020.
GOLD: Andre Esterhuizen (Sharks)
Just another weekend dominated, in a South African sense, by the exploits of the Sharks.
A host of them excelled once more in the 33-19 disposal of the Jaguares at Kings Park on Saturday … including Sikhumbuzo Notshe, who has been a repeat visitor to this little exercise already, Curwin Bosch, named the official player of the match, Aphelele Fassi, the returning S’bu Nkosi, plus the less heralded likes of James Venter and Kerron van Vuuren.
There were others, too, but my own choice for standout - even if some might see it as a little against the grain - was that human piledriver of an inside centre, Esterhuizen.
The nearly 26-year-old has been something of an unsung hero all season to this point, as his highly physical qualities have either directly or indirectly been responsible for many of their crisp attacking plays and the open-play majesty of some of their speedier, more naturally flair-laden customers.
Esterhuizen sucks in defenders like popcorn beneath the couch to a vacuum cleaner, a necessary fact based to a large degree on his formidable 110kg frame that makes him very much like a brawny, big-leg-drive No 7 flanker: it just frees up so much more space in channels beyond his own.
But the eight-cap Springbok isn’t all blunt instrument - he mixes up his game with increased relish to be an attacking threat of his own, given his good eye for situations (especially from deep, of late) and flourishing draw-and-pass abilities.
Sadly soon to be Harlequins-bound, where his main strengths should suit English rugby down to the ground, Esterhuizen joined the four-try harvest against the Argentineans.
In a tribute in commentary on Saturday that said it all, SuperSport’s Bok legend Butch James observed: “The Sharks’ next big signing will have to be a No 12 … Andre’s going to be a huge loss.”
SILVER: Rosko Specman (Bulls)
There hadn’t been many Bulls players queueing up for recognition up to Saturday, had there?
But that changed a little for the better in their back-to-life, 38-13 victory over the Highlanders.
While you have to be careful not to get too carried away at times by individual prosperity on the score-sheet, Specman’s hat-trick of tries did make him an appealing candidate for most luminary player from their ranks.
Even before he had got over the whitewash, the diminutive left wing and sometimes Sevens ace was already keeping the visitors’ defence stretched with his twinkle-toed ability to change his running line in a jiffy; it brought reminders to me of the heyday of another pocket rocket in South African rugby, Brent Russell.
Specman is also very adept at finding space from the seemingly most claustrophobic of situations.
His constructiveness all came to sensational fruition in a pivotal 16-minute period midway through the second half, when the 1.76m flier, his finishing qualities already so renowned, registered his threesome of tries in rapid succession … including one when he still had bits of tissue/cotton wool up his nostrils after taking a nasty blow as he touched down for an earlier score.
BRONZE: Aphelele Fassi (Sharks)
Again, you could argue until the cows come home about exactly which Sharks players should feature.
But Fassi’s increasingly devastating elusiveness on the run, and ability to explode through a gap with those long, swift legs of his, caught the eye several times to telling effect against the Jaguares, who struggled to match the general tempo of their hosts until the last quarter or so, when Sean Everitt’s charges began to show understandable “post-tour fatigue”.
While the galloping fullback didn’t get in the try column himself in this game, he was a front-foot menace repeatedly, and it is also increasingly obvious that his assertiveness as a defender (while still not a perfect department for him) is constantly on the up.
We may well reach a situation later this season where the 22-year-old thrill merchant from King William’s Town becomes a major threat to more seasoned ex-Shark Willie le Roux’s current status as first-choice Springbok No 15.
*Agree? Disagree? Let me hear your own SA player ‘podium’ thoughts from the weekend on Twitter: @RobHouwing