The excitement is escalating by the day ahead of Saturday’s monumental Super Rugby kickoff in South Africa, between the Sharks and the Bulls at Kings Park, and Jake White points out the relevance of the most hyped SA team meeting an old foe that has been the country’s best Super Rugby performer.
The Sharks coach is referring to a Bulls side that has won three Super Rugby titles, this country’s only successes in the 18-year-old competition, who will be visiting a Durban side that is tipped across the southern hemisphere as being genuine championship contenders.
The Sharks have a backbone of current Springboks and one of the best coaches in the business, plus they have a sprinkling of highly talented youngsters, while the Bulls last year, against the odds, won the SA Conference before being shocked at Loftus Versfeld in the play-offs by none other than White’s Brumbies, who went on to contest the final against the Chiefs.
“Let’s be fair, the Bulls are the most successful Super Rugby franchise in South African history and they aren’t going to come here and just hand over what we want,” White said with a smile.
“It’s a derby game, the first game of the tournament for both sides and there is a lot of media hype about the fact that we have this talented squad ... I think it’s going to be a very interesting game, an eye-opener for South African rugby.”
The Currie Cup champions carry the weight of expectation, and White must use his experience to channel this correctly given that South African teams thrive on being written off.
“It’s a unique situation for the Sharks,” White agrees. “Not many South African sides get given the favourites’ tag. In fact, in a lot of ways, South Africans like to be the underdog, both internationally as well as at a franchise level.
“That’s just the way it is, and one thing I’ve chatted to the players about is reputations,” White continued. “Reputations mean nothing, it doesn’t matter what people think and it doesn’t matter how many Springboks you have ... you’re not going to win with reputations.
“I’m not trying to play down the fact that we have a talented squad – we have – but the challenge is making sure that everything is aligned,” White said.
“So that the way we train and the way we prepare and the way we play underline the fact that we are favourites and are talented and have a good team.”
White said that the competition opener – there are no games in New Zealand and Australia this weekend – would be a mighty arm wrestle, but could not be expected to be a classic of running rugby.
“There is no doubt that there will be first game jitters and some nerves, and then there are the conditions in Durban, with the heat and humidity,” White said.
“The first couple of weeks are always tough to hold on to the ball at Kings Park – for all teams. We just hope that we play as well as we can in terms of the things we’ve tried to do in preparation.
“We’ve spoken about trying to use the conditions that are going to be available to us. I’ve used the experience of players and coaches who have been here before.” - Cape Times