‘No A and B team’: Jake White feels Bulls can topple Northampton in Champions Cup quarter-final

Impressive young Bulls No 8 Cameron Hanekom has recovered from a hamstring injury in time to face Northampton tonight. Photo: BackpagePix

Impressive young Bulls No 8 Cameron Hanekom has recovered from a hamstring injury in time to face Northampton tonight. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Apr 13, 2024


WHEN is the right time to rotate your team and build depth?

Many rugby fans on social media insist it can’t be in a Champions Cup quarter-final, but Bulls director of rugby Jake White disagrees.

In fact, White feels it is especially in such big games that fringe players get a proper chance to prove themselves worthy of selection, which is why he left all his current Springboks back in Pretoria for tonight’s last-eight showdown with Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens (9pm SA time kick-off).

White refuted accusations that he had picked a “B team” yesterday that will face the English Premiership log leaders, despite the fact that Springboks and regular starters such as Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Willie le Roux, David Kriel, Embrose Papier, Johan Goosen, Marcell Coetzee, Elrigh Louw, Ruan Vermaak, Wilco Louw, Johan Grobbelaar and Gerhard Steenekamp won’t feature tonight.

Injuries have also sidelined Marco van Staden and Ruan Nortjé, but the Bulls have been boosted by the return of the fit-again Cameron Hanekom and Mpilo Gumede in the loose trio, with Nizaam Carr taking over as captain at openside flank.

White pointed out that many of the players starting against Northampton have been regulars previously, such as Stravino Jacobs, Chris Smith, Zak Burger and Mornay Smith.

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

“All these guys have either started in a URC or Champions Cup game, or both. Not all of them have had lots of game-time, so when is the right time to play them?” White said.

“If I leave it for another week, then they haven’t played for another week. If I don’t play them next week, then Munster – who are the URC champions – then we are being disrespectful to the URC champions as well.

“There is no right time... I say again, this is the best team we have. Medical advice, some guys have gone in for operations since I’ve been away.

“Some guys have been told not to travel, some guys have gone in for scans today.

“Now it’s a massive game, so do we only play certain guys in certain games where it is not important? Then why would you have a squad?

“Maybe some people would do it differently. I would like to give them opportunities in games that are important too, not just in games where the public or media think that is when you must play a guy.

“The timing is not always in everyone’s hands. But I’m confident that the group’s worked hard, that we’ve changed things that we did last year.

“The feeling in the camp is that these players would like to play in games that are important as well – and I agree with them. I agree that as a coach, it is important for me to show confidence in them as well.”

White stated that next Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash against Munster at Loftus Versfeld did not influence his selection for the Northampton game.

In fact, he believes that the match-23 is well equipped to pull off a victory tonight.

They certainly have enough experience in the team, but whether they have enough cohesion and strike-power to combat Northampton’s high-tempo approach – that will be the litmus test for a group that haven’t played much rugby this season.

“Every competition I’ve coached in, it is to win – so I don’t ever want anyone to underestimate that fact. I think it’s a slap in the face... People are saying A and B teams, but this team played two years ago in nearly every game,” the former Bok coach said.

“We’ve got to get to a point where there is no A and B team. We’ve got to create depth. I would like to become a powerhouse club where it doesn’t matter which team or combination you put on the field.

“There are no niggling injuries, no guys who are 50-50. This team have trained together because we interchange our combinations, and they have been very good at training. Sometimes you’ve got to reward players in games as well, where they deserve a chance.

“It’s one of those grounds that are quite exposed, and I think playing with or against the wind can be a massive influence.

“It’s one of those things where we will have to see what the conditions will be like. If it is windy and rainy – the weather changes and is never 100 percent spot-on – then we will just have to adapt.

“I’m not afraid of the fact that the squad we’ve got can roll up their sleeves and play tighter if they have to.”

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.