Cape Town - The Bulls have beaten the Sharks and SA A this year, but now “it’s almost like we are playing the Springboks”, according to coach Jake White, in tomorrow’s United Rugby Championship clash in Durban.
White said during an online press conference yesterday that he has information that the Sharks will roll out all their Bok stars – including captain Siya Kolisi, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, centre Lukhanyo Am and wing Makazole Mapimpi – for the Kings Park showdown (7pm kickoff), and he has likened the game to a Test match.
In contrast, the Bulls will have no returning Boks in their team, after they confirmed prop Trevor Nyakane’s move to French club Racing 92 yesterday, while hooker Johan Grobbelaar was on tour in Australia, but did not earn a Test cap.
“We get to play another derby, and as I said to the players yesterday, we’ve played all these good sides – including SA A – this year, and now it’s almost like we are playing the Springboks,” White said.
“They’ve got nine Springboks back, a Scottish international, a Samoan international and an Australian international. It doesn’t get much tougher than that – the Sharks at home, with all those international players, is going to be a massive game for us. But I can tell you that we are very excited that we get to measure ourselves against an international side now again.”
Apart from Kolisi, Mbonambi, Am and Mapimpi, the other players who were on the Bok November tour were Ox Nche, Sbu Nkosi, Thomas du Toit, Aphelele Fassi and Grant Williams. In addition, flank Dylan Richardson made his Scotland Test debut in November, while Ben Tapuai is a former Wallaby centre and loose forward Olajuwon Noa has three Test caps for Samoa.
White expects the Sharks to seek revenge for their two consecutive Currie Cup final defeats at Loftus Versfeld.
“That’s why I think it’s such a big week. It’s not only a local derby, but the game that we’ve played in the Currie Cup final twice now. They’ve got all these internationals – that says a lot for their squad. At home with that kind of team, there is a little bit of a buzz now. It’s like a Test match for us, and I’m looking forward to it,” the former Bok coach said.
“We’ve been growing slowly over the last 16-18 months, and we’re looking forward to seeing where we are. I get the sense now that Marcell Coetzee is going to get a crack to play against Siya, you get Bismarck and Grobbies to play against Bongi, and the list just goes on.”
The Bulls, though, will be looking to address two areas of concern for White from their URC tour – the breakdown and attack.
“I think we thought that our game in the Currie Cup and playing against the same teams in local derbies, we were in a good place – only to find out there were certain areas that we needed to look at,” he said.
“One was the breakdown: both defensive and attacking breakdown. There is a significant difference as to how those teams defend and attack the breakdown.
“And then obviously our attack. I think it’s like anything – you’ve got to develop as a team. You can’t stay in the same groove all the time. So, we’ve looked at how we want to attack and how we use the players we have in our team.
“The one significant difference I found with the URC teams is the athletic ability of all the players they have in their squad. They have locks, flankers and props who have footwork, ball skills and handling skills. You think you’ve got them cornered, and then they come up with a skill-set that gets them out of that hole.
“That’s an area that you’re not going to get right in one week or a couple of weeks either – it’s the footwork and the understanding of the skill-sets you need, and the selections of how we put a team together, so that we can actually use the skill-sets of those players.
“The eye-opener for me was just the body shape and the ability of those players playing against us – it was a little bit different to what we are used to in South Africa.”