CAPE TOWN – The Springboks, and South African rugby in general, have long been criticised for adopting safety-first tactics.
Most of the time, it has been justified – even with the current Boks, despite their strong win percentage, World Cup and Rugby Championship titles, and the British and Irish Lions series triumph.
But Jake White’s Bulls don’t do boring. In fact, they play a brand of rugby that would have packed out Loftus Versfeld for Friday night’s 48-31 Currie Cup semi-final victory over Western Province, and had fans queuing for tickets tomorrow morning already for Saturday’s final – if it wasn’t for Covid-19.
The former Bok coach was rightly purring about his team’s fine attacking display against WP, with flyhalf Johan Goosen leading the orchestra with aplomb and the forwards “shifting the pianos”, so to speak, in dominating their opponents with their ball-carrying and ferocity in defence.
Man-of-the-Match Ruan Nortjé turned in a Victor Matfield-like performance as he commanded the lineouts, made endless tackles and just involved wherever he can. Surely a Bok call-up can’t be too far away now…
Of course, playing with such verve and creativity against a young and somewhat depleted WP outfit is one thing, and doing it against experienced European sides filled with Test players in the upcoming United Rugby Championship is another.
The head coach knows that more than most after the Bulls were swept away by unfancied Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final in Treviso in June, and the management have been working hard on recruitment and coaching to develop the side since then.
“We don’t want to be a one-trick pony; we don’t want to be able to play one style. We obviously pride ourselves on our forward pack, our scrum and our maul. That’s the part of our DNA of what we have in this union, and we don’t want to go too far away from that,” White said.
“But if you can ask different questions on attack with your backs, or certain plays we have at the back of lineouts or around lineouts…
“There are two plays that I think about – one was with Cornal Hendricks’ try when we caught the ball over the 15 and we could’ve mauled it and maybe been a bit more conservative and gone for that try. But we ended up scoring a great try by Cornal.
“And just before the end of the game, when Jan-Hendrik (Wessels) went to the short side and Jacques (du Plessis) came (to the front of the lineout)…
“So, one of the things when you are playing in this competition is that you’ve got to have different questions for the defence, and I am so glad that we are now understanding that. We didn’t score there, but the fact that they called it there and had the confidence to do it is exactly what we want to do.
“I am hoping that we can continue growing and building on that, because these games that we are going to get post the Currie Cup final are going to be tougher and tougher for the next six months.”
The Bulls have an extra day to get ready for the final, and all they could have done over the last few months is play what’s in front of them. And that’s good enough for White.
“We learnt a lot in Benetton, as a group, and the guys who played against Province (in the first Currie Cup match of the season) also learnt a lot – that the competition is not that easy, even if you play at home,” he said.
“I’m very happy with where we are as a group. We are relatively new as a group; we’ve been together for about a year and six months now. And some of these players – I can use Johan Goosen as an example – have been with us for a short while.
“We are growing nicely. I think we are where we want to be – obviously we can’t be anything better than playing a home final in the Currie Cup, having won it last year (last season).
“But we also need to understand that we are going to have to improve a lot in the next couple of years if we want to be real contenders in all the competitions we play in.”