Jake White: I picked best Bulls team for Northampton, nothing to do with Munster

Powerful wing Stravino Jacobs will return from a broken leg for the Bulls against Northampton on Saturday night. Photo: BackpagePix

Powerful wing Stravino Jacobs will return from a broken leg for the Bulls against Northampton on Saturday night. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Apr 12, 2024


Jake White says that his Bulls team selection for Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Northampton (9pm SA time kickoff) was not made with next week’s United Rugby Championship fixture against Munster in mind.

Springboks such as Willie le Roux, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Johan Goosen, Embrose Papier, Marcell Coetzee and Elrigh Louw stayed behind in Pretoria, while Marco van Staden and Ruan Nortjé are injured.

White said on Friday that many of his regular starters are also dealing with niggling injuries, and that “some had even gone for operations” this week and are in doubt for the Munster game at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday as well.

Asked on Friday if the Munster game was the reason for the changes, White said: “No. One of the things I learnt last year is that I didn’t rotate my squad enough. I kept playing the same players over and over and over, and it came back to bite me at the end of the season.

“It’s got nothing to do with Munster – it’s about where we are as a group. I think six of the guys on this tour played in three Super Rugby finals; probably about eight guys beat Leinster in Leinster; Cameron Hanekom and Stravino Jacobs have come back from injury and they were the number-one starters in their positions before they got injured.

“There’s rotation, which I said is very important for where we are as a group.

“And more importantly, I’ve got medical advice that some guys who’ve got bumps and bruises after the last travel and massive game against Lyon, it would have been a massive risk for me to bring them overseas if they didn’t (recover).

“With the travelling, their contusions and their injuries they have, they could probably not be ready for Saturday – and that would mean that I would be here with a big group of players who would be at risk not to start at the weekend.

“As you can imagine, I can’t have four, five, six, seven guys who are 50-50 when you travel and are away from home, and they’re not ready by Saturday because the chances of being able to replace them would be impossible.

“It’s the best team. I’m confident and looking forward to seeing how this team does because they’ve been training together. Guys like Zak, Chris and Harold have played many games together and trained many times together as a group.

“Sebastian and Devon won the Currie Cup and played many times for the Pumas... Akker van der Merwe played against Northampton when he was at Sale Sharks; Jaco van der Walt has played in these conditions at Edinburgh.

“Henry Immelman played for Montpellier and was at Edinburgh... I think it’s quite an exciting team for this fixture.”

— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) April 12, 2024

Many of the starters for Saturday’s quarter-final at Franklin’s Gardens have been regular features for the Bulls over the past few seasons, and White felt that there is enough experience in the match-23 to mount a serious challenge for victory against Northampton.

“I’m not giving my team away, but a lot of guys are injured – I might have to play this team next week... Those are the circumstances I have. The energy is part of it: I’d like to see the energy,” the former Bok coach said.

“You keep saying that these guys haven’t played a lot, but Simphiwe is nearly on 50 URC games; Akker has played over 100 first-class games; Mornay was our starting tighthead for two seasons before Wilco got here.

“Nizaam played at Wasps and has over 100 first-class games. Gumede was our number one number eight and started in every game before he got injured, and so did Cameron Hanekom.

“Zak was our number-one scrumhalf, Chris Smith has played the most rugby out of any 10 that we’ve got at our club.

“So for me, this is still a good team. It’s fresh, no niggles, they’ve trained well together. Some have been rewarded, some have been rotated, some are in because we’ve got injuries.

“They want to do well and give themselves a fair crack. They ask me to give them a chance when there’s a big game, and they want to show me they can play at this level.”

Teams For Northampton

Bulls: 15 Devon Williams 14 Sebastian de Klerk 13 Henry Immelman 12 Harold Vorster 11 Stravino Jacobs 10 Chris Smith 9 Zak Burger 8 Cameron Hanekom 7 Mpilo Gumede 6 Nizaam Carr (captain) 5 JF van Heerden 4 Janko Swanepoel 3 Mornay Smith 2 Akker van der Merwe 1 Simphiwe Matanzima.

Bench: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels 17 Dylan Smith 18 Francois Klopper 19 Merwe Olivier 20 Reinhardt Ludwig 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Jaco van der Walt 23 Cornal Hendricks.

Northampton: 15 James Ramm 14 George Hendy 13 Tommy Freeman 12 Fraser Dingwall 11 Ollie Sleightholme 10 Fin Smith 9 Alex Mitchell 8 Juarno Augustus 7 Sam Graham 6 Courtney Lawes (captain) 5 Alex Coles 4 Alex Moon 3 Trevor Davison 2 Curtis Langdon 1 Emmanuel Iyogun.

Bench: 16 Sam Matavesi 17 Alex Waller 18 Ethan Waller 19 Temo Mayanavanua 20 Angus Scott-Young 21 Lewis Ludlam 22 Tom James 23 George Furbank.