Eleven of Challenge Cup final players including WC winners from SA

Eleven of Challenge Cup final players including WC winners from SA

PHOTO: GB Jordaan

Just how influential the input from South African rugby players in Europe is, was amply illustrated in the European Challenge Cup final played at Twickenham on Friday night.

Eleven South Africans played in this final where French club Montpellier won the nail-biter against Leicester by a single point, 18-17, with both sides scoring two tries.

The winner came after an hour after a try finished off by Springbok Johan Goosen, soon to be in the Bulls camp in Pretoria with his Montpellier teammate Jacques (‘Sheep’) du Plessis.

And on Saturday, five more South African’s are in the match-day squads for the highlight of European rugby, the Champions Cup.

Montpellier had seven players in their match-winning 23 for the final who had learned their rugby in South Africa. It included five Springboks and one French international plus Jacques du Plessis.

Three of the five Montpellier Springboks are World Cup winners, including the World’s highest paid player Handré Pollard. The other two are Bismarck du Plessis, WC winner in 2007, plus Pollard and scrumhalf Jaco Reinach (2019 winners of the Webb Ellis trophy.)

In addition to those three, the Montpellier centre combination was made up of two Boks, Jan Serfontein and Johan Goosen, who scored the winner.

Former Bulls lock, Paul Willemse, now a regular in the France national side, was the other international who had learned his rugby in South Africa. Jacques du Pessis is the only non-international of the seven Saffas in the Montpellier side.  

And on the losers’ side there were another four Saffas, with the full starting loose trio and a prop on the bench from South Africa. The Leicester loose forwards were Jasper Wiese, Cyle Brink and former Bulls captain Hanro Liebenberg with Luan de Bruin as replacement prop.

▲ In a nutshell, 11 from 46 player in this match, or 24% of the two teams’ match-23s, learned their rugby, in South Africa.

Champions Cup final
But that’s not all.

Liebenberg’s brother Wihan, who captained the Junior Springboks to the World U20 title in 2012, is in La Rochelle’s 23 for the Champions Cup final against Toulouse later on Saturday. He is on the bench for the showpiece of the world’s top rugby competition against Toulouse.

In La Rochelle’s starting team is former Stormers wings Dillyn Leyds and Raymond Rule, who is one of the five finalists for France’s Top 14 Player of the Season.

He will face World Cup-winning hero Cheslin Kolbe, on the right wing for Toulouse, with Springbok loose forward Reinhardt Elstadt also in the Toulouse run-on team.