15. Ben Smith (Highlanders)
In the midst of his team getting thumped around at Loftus, the Landers’ fullback put in an admirable yet unrewarded performance for a team that is very depressing to watch. He made a couple of good runs and always threatened the Bulls line of defense, pity the Highlanders made so many handling errors.
14. Peter Betham (Waratahs)
Whist the Brumbies collectively kept a watchful eye on Israel Folau, the Tahs cleverly utilised this barnstorming winger to punch holes in the defense, fittingly scoring the winning try in the process.
13. JJ Engelbrecht (Bulls)
Sliced through the Highlanders like a hot knife through butter. Not only is he exceptionally strong, but he has loads of pace to burn and runs great lines.
12. Kyle Godwin (Force)
One of the best performers of round 14. Yet again the whiz kid from the west coast made a nuisance of himself in midfield. Attacked with great purpose and defended bravely.
11. Digby Ioane (Reds)
Apart from being wrong-footed by Cheetahs scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, the Reds’ danger man didn’t do too much wrong. He worked like a dog and created holes with ease, breaking through tackles at will. Unfortunately the Queenslanders couldn’t finish any of their polished moves as they clearly had the upper hand in attack.
10. Berrick Barnes (Waratahs)
Twice in a row now the Tahs pivot has expertly pulled them out of the fire. Last week he put Folau into the gap and over the line against the Stormers, and this time around he took it upon himself to fly over the whitewash in order to topple the Brumbies. Wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he starts this coming weekend.
9. Piet van Zyl (Cheetahs)
They have become the masters of opportunism, but luck is made and at the heart of the Cheetahs is a wide-eyed youngster who will make the opposition pay dearly for every single mistake they make. He scored a first-half double against the Reds to take the wind from beneath their wings early on.
8. Scott Higginbotham (Rebels)
Courageously lead his team to an historic victory over the Stormers and scored his fourth try in as many matches. Captaincy seems to fit him like a glove and evidently the Rebels are flourishing under his leadership. His hunger for the try line is second to none and when he is in possession of the ball, defenders better be at their best.
7. Michael Hooper (Waratahs)
Under immense pressure in the face of his showdown with legendary George Smith, the young flanker delivered in style. Scored a great try in the corner – I suppose out-sprinting the aforementioned Smith was an added bonus – before combining with Barnes for the try that got their tails up.
6. Pieter Labuschagne (Cheetahs)
Undoubtedly the most valuable asset in the Free State. Without him they came apart in the rucks against the Hurricanes and his presence clearly made everybody more comfortable in their individual roles. Heinrich Brussow could again focus only on getting his scavenging hands dirty, whilst Lappies bullied the opposition with and without the ball.
5. Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)
His presence alone manifests a lot of doubt in the opposition at lineout time, making it difficult for any team to dominate that area against the Chiefs. Unfortunately he has to contend with Sam Whitelock for an All Black jumper, which means he’ll either come of the bench or be required to play outside of his preferred position. Apart from being a monster in defence, Retallick also had a hand in engineering the only try of the match.
4. Hugh Pyle (Rebels)
The Rebels are fortunate to have so many strong, quality, ball-carrying forwards and Pyle has the additional ability to stay close to the action, often finding himself in try scoring positions. He stood his ground in contact magnificently and scored a well-worked try against one of the best defensive outfits in the competition.
3. Owen Franks (Crusaders)
After numerous attempts at the driving maul and quite a few related penalties conceded by the Blues, the incumbent All Black tighthead prop got his hands on the ball and crashed over the line in a wet and less-than-wonderful Christchurch. The Crusaders’ match winning scrum, with the help of this big man, thoroughly dominated yet again, an ominous sign for their rivals.
2. Kyle Cooper (Sharks)
Week after week the Sharks rake is putting his hand up for Springbok selection, and although it’s going to take some doing to lift Adriaan Strauss out of that seat, Cooper is definitely making a very good case for himself. He is a dependable lineout thrower, puts his body on the line in defence and is surprising fast and agile for his size.
1.Morné Mellett (Bulls)
I couldn’t decide between Benn Robinson of the Waratahs and the Bulls’ Morné Mellett, so I let the coin do the talking and Mellett won. Both of them tend to fly below the radar, pushing, shoving and generally just protecting the ball, getting through a mountain of work every game. During their respective matches, both guys also had an edge on their opponents at scrum time.
by Jackie Smit