The crunch SA Shield derby at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday will showcase an electrifying showdown between Hollywoodbets Sharks Aphelele Fassi and Vodacom Bulls playmaker Willie le Roux.
Fassi has made a flying start to the 2023-24 Vodacom United Rugby Championship and scored a try-double in last week’s emphatic victory over the visiting Welsh Dragons, while World Cup-winner Le Roux returned from a Springbok-enforced break to make his Vodacom Bulls debut in style, dotting down for one of his team’s seven tries in an impressive destruction of Connacht.
Fassi has made more carry metres than any other player in the Vodacom URC this season (565) and was directly involved in 10 line breaks in total, making six himself and assisting a further four, the most of any player.
The 25-year-old turned down lucrative offers to leave Durban and resigned with the Hollywoodbets Sharks, determined to soar to new heights with his boyhood club.
“The main reason I stay is because I still want to do more for this jersey at the Hollywoodbets Sharks,” said Fassi.
“Coming into the new season, I need to focus on getting that consistency in my performance, reviewing where I can improve after each game.”
Having made a try-scoring Springboks Test debut against Georgia in 2021, Fassi has added just two more caps to his collection, and he knows exactly what is required to push for a return to the Springbok fold.
There is no better time for Fassi to show his all-round growth as a player and leader in the backline than on Saturday, when he duels with incumbent Springbok fullback, Le Roux.
The 34-year-old is among a quartet of World Cup winners available to the Vodacom Bulls for the derby, on the back of a sensational first run in blue.
Back plying his trade in the Republic for the first time since 2016, Le Roux played like he was part of the furniture at Loftus Versfeld and showed why he will be integral to Jake White’s plans for the Vodacom Bulls.
"It’s the first time he’s played for us but it looked like he'd been with us for four years,” White said.
"He’s got unbelievable timing, he’s very skilful, clever and you can already see the impact he has with guys like Canan [Moodie] and Kurt-Lee [Arendse].”
The rivalry between these two South African heavyweight contenders goes back decades, as the Hollywoodbets Sharks and Vodacom Bulls have battled for domestic titles and Super Rugby silverware in the past.
In the Vodacom URC, they faced off in the 2021-22 quarter-finals, where the Vodacom Bulls snatched a dramatic win on home turf and most recently, it is the Hollywoodbets Sharks who have held the bragging rights after beating their rivals 47-20 on South Africa's East Coast.
Saturday’s match presents Fassi with an important opportunity to prove he has outgrown his reputation as a rookie, and that his challenge for Bok honours is one that must be taken very seriously. The priority for Le Roux will be to show why 93 Test caps uniquely qualify him to remain South Africa’s first-choice fullback in 2024.
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