Rainbow Cup: Five key players
SPOTLIGHT: The Rainbow Cup will see the Pro14’s finest share the stage with the best South Africa has to offer.
From some of the biggest names in the game to emerging talent, there will be plenty of individual stories to follow over the course of the tournament.
We take a look at five men who could light up the competition.
Siya Kolisi (Sharks)
Kolisi is a man who needs no introduction, having captained South Africa to victory at the 2019 Rugby World Cup as the first black skipper of the Springboks.
Having represented the Stormers in Super Rugby since 2012, flank Kolisi, 29, made the switch to the Sharks in February and will be one of the players looking to get up to speed ahead of the scheduled British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
The Sharks will be hoping Kolisi’s undoubted pedigree can steer them to Rainbow Cup success while Pro14 fans will be relishing the opportunity to catch one of the game’s biggest stars in action.
Scott Penny (Leinster)
Penny enjoyed a breakthrough campaign during the 2020-21 Pro14 season and will be looking to carry that momentum into the Rainbow Cup.
The 21-year-old back row was voted the competition’s Next-Gen Star of the season, following in the footsteps of the likes of Taulupe Faletau and Stuart Hogg in landing the prize.
He crossed for nine tries over the course of the campaign – only Connacht’s Alex Wootton and Ulster’s Marcell Coetzee could match that figure – but missed the Pro14 final through injury. He will be keen to make up for that disappointment by helping Leinster to further glory in the Rainbow Cup, providing he can shake off his hand issue.
Tiaan Swanepoel (Lions)
Swanepoel was one of the star performers in the Currie Cup earlier this year, ending the competition among the stats leaders for points, tries and carries.
The 24-year-old can play at flyhalf or fullback, although he has been utilised more regularly at No.15 with Elton Jantjies his competition for the No.10 jersey before the captain’s departure for Pau.
With a boot that strikes fear into opposition sides, Swanepoel has grasped his opportunity since injuries to EW Viljoen and fellow Namibian Divan Rossouw brought him into the side and will want to demonstrate his talents to a wider audience over the coming weeks.
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Hamish Watson (Edinburgh)
Watson has already put forward a strong case for a British and Irish Lions place after being named the Six Nations player of the tournament.
The Scotland flank was the tournament’s top performer following a public vote and will be eager to match that display in the Rainbow Cup.
He will also be motivated to try and help Edinburgh bounce back from an underwhelming Pro14 campaign in which they finished fifth in Conference B.
Alex Wootton (Connacht)
Wootton spent the 2020-21 Pro14 season on loan at Connacht from Munster and did enough to land a permanent deal at the Sportsground.
As well as being among the competition’s leading try scorers, Wootton also topped the list for metres gained and was in the top five for clean breaks and defenders beaten.
Connacht faces a tricky start to the Rainbow Cup – away clashes with Ulster and Munster either side of a home fixture against Leinster – but Wootton will be key to their hopes.