Damian de Allende. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
- South Africans were a prominent presence in the round of 16 second legs of the European Champions Cup this weekend.
- Damian de Allende was outstanding for Munster, while Hanro Liebenberg, Lood de Jager and Jean-Luc du Preez also starred for their respective English clubs.
- Faf de Klerk’s wayward tackling landed him in hot water again for Sale.
South African players’ influence in this weekend’s European Champions Cup round of 16 second legs was vast and varied.
It was Damian de Allende, however, who stole the show as he once again showcased why he’s arguably the best inside centre in world rugby in guiding Munster to a 26-10 (34-23 on aggregate) victory over Exeter.
The 31-year-old class act sealed the deal with a cracking try over in the corner when Simon Zebo’s magnificent off-load on the inside found him.
It was no less than De Allende deserved for his all-round performance, gaining 24 running metres from his 5 carries – which included a line-break – and proving absolutely impenetrable in midfield in completing 17 tackles.
He and centre partner Chris Farrell, in fact, combined for an incredible 35 tackles between them as Johann van Graan’s troops could reflect on a defensive masterclass.
For the Chiefs, Jacques Vermeulen started at No 8 and scored their only try.
Former Bull Hanro Liebenberg delivered a similarly compelling showing in Leicester’s 27-17 (56-27 on aggregate) win over Clermont, proving a menacing ball-carrier and scoring the opening try before defending with real heart.
There was massive heartache for Andre Esterhuizen and Harlequins as England flyhalf Marcus Smith missed a point-blank penalty that would’ve seen them progress to the quarterfinals at the expense of Montpellier.
The English club won 33-20, but the spurned two-pointer meant their French opponents went through on a 60-59 aggregate.
Esterhuizen was solid at inside centre, standing tall as carrier and proving a reliable defender.
He also made two turnovers.
In hindsight, Montpellier had Handre Pollard – who started at No 12 – to thank for a second half penalty that gave them their fortunate but crucial buffer.
Sale, with their large SA contingent, were wild in claiming a thrilling 35-29 (aggregate 44-39) triumph over Bristol.
Jono Ross, the former Bulls skipper, was the hero with a late try, but the Bok duo of Lood de Jager and Jean-Luc du Preez were Sale’s main protagonists, both giving their opponents major headaches with their superb carrying and ruthless tackling.
The nippy Faf de Klerk, however, was once again punished for his wayward defence as his early tackle Fitz Harding saw him sent to the sin-bin.
That would prove a dominant theme to Sale’s performance as they conceded another yellow as well as a red for a shoulder charge from Arron Reed.
Duane Vermeulen’s outing with Ulster was relatively muted as the Irish side lost 23-30 to Toulouse, Rynhardt Elstadt being at the forefront of a superb defensive showing with 12 tackles.