It’s that time of the month again, as we unveil our Player of the Month award winner for January, following stiff competition from a number of quarters.
Leinster’s Josh van der Flier enjoyed a productive month, whilst Manu Vunipola stood out in a Saracens side that was facing all kinds of adversity. Both Alex Dombrandt and Nathan Hughes also reminded everyone of their England credentials towards the end of January, although it was not enough to see them named in Eddie Jones’ England squad.
One club that had a particularly impressive month was Sale Sharks who, apart from having deprioritised the Heineken Champions Cup, recorded hugely important wins over Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs, propelling themselves up to third and just four points off of league leaders, Exeter.
Plenty of Sale’s contingent have stood up, not least so Jean-Luc du Preez, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Byron McGuigan, although it’s Jean-Luc’s twin brother, Daniel du Preez, who impressed us the most over the last month. He follows in the footsteps of another dynamic loose forward, Caelan Doris, who picked up the same award in December.
The South African No 8 has been pivotal to delivering the front-foot ball that Sale have thrived with during January and it was particularly notable against Exeter, where he went toe-to-toe with one of the most physical packs in club rugby and came out on top. He prevented Exeter from coming out on top in that typically physical slog on the gain-line and was then able to keep the ball alive and further stretch the Exeter defence with composed passing and offloading after making those initial breaks.
He provided that, to a degree, against Harlequins, although it was the physicality of his defence which really shone in that victory. Quins enjoyed the possession advantage on that day, although there was little they could do with it, as the menacing tackling presence of du Preez denied them any sort of momentum or go forward.
Although rested for the final game of the Champions Cup pool, with Sale already eliminated, du Preez also stood up to be counted in the 30-23 loss to La Rochelle at Stade Marcel Deflandre. As with the two Gallagher Premiership games, it was a case of du Preez physically imposing himself on the opposition and winning the battles as a one-out runner or on the pick and go that other Sale players couldn’t manage on the day.
The former Shark has brought an added ball-carrying element to a back row that is gifted with breakdown technicians and grafters in the likes of the Curry twins, Jono Ross and Mark Wilson, and his explosion with the ball in hand will be vital to Sale’s hopes of returning to the Premiership playoffs this season.
With Sale losing Tom Curry to England duty over the next couple of months, du Preez’s influence in the back row will be more important than ever moving forward.
A $100 donation will be made to the charity of du Preez’s choosing as a result of his performances over the past 30 days.
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