Jake White praises Bulls ‘Bomb Squad’ for trampling Sharks
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CAPE TOWN – The 31 unanswered points in the second half against the Sharks was “very close” to the best 40 minutes of rugby that the Bulls have played on his watch, says coach Jake White.
The men from Pretoria played the percentage game in the first half, but roared into action in the second, scoring four tries to secure a bonus-point 43-9 Rainbow Cup SA victory at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
White expressed his frustration with the opening stanza, where he felt that the Bulls did not take charge of fielding the Sharks’ up-and-unders, but was equally delighted with how they turned it on after halftime to dispatch the visitors.
It was an exhilarating mixture of forward power and finesse on attack, with veteran flyhalf Morné Steyn conducting the orchestra in a Man-of-the-Match performance, where he scored 19 points, while Lizo Gqoboka, Stravino Jacobs, Schalk Erasmus and Chris Smith got the touchdowns.
“We slowly, slowly grounded them down… And I think altitude as well obviously, playing like that (from the Sharks) catches you in the second half,” White said.
“We weren’t great in the first half. We let every ball bounce. We found that whenever the ball went into the air, they probably won every single one of those contestables balls in the air – whether we knocked it on or whether they got it back in the air.
“It was a little bit frustrating in the first half, but obviously very proud about the way that we finished off, and we got the bonus point.
“Obviously it’s very close (to the best half of rugby since he became coach), if you consider both teams have grown. We’ve had a year together now. We obviously haven’t been together as long as the coaching staff and the players of the Sharks or the Stormers have been.
“So, it’s nice to see that at least we have built on where we were maybe at that Super Saturday (warm-up match), just over a year ago. And it was good. Forwards were really good, and backs played well in the second half.
“To keep the Sharks, who have a great attack, tryless… is also wonderful for (defence coach) Joey Mongalo, if we consider that last week we didn’t get a try scored against us, and tonight, we didn’t get a try scored against us. So, I’m very happy that the coaching staff are getting a return on all the hard work that they’ve done.”
White praised his own ‘Bomb Squad’, led by Bok props Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane, for making a huge impact from the bench. Flank Elrigh Louw also made a major contribution after replacing the injured Arno Botha (hamstring) in the first half already.
“It’s a wonderful position to be in when you can leave two Springbok props on the bench. I thought the front row (Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar and Mornay Smith) that are relatively young scrummed well at the beginning of the game,” he said.
“Elrigh Louw has just come out of Under-21, and to have an impact like that off the bench was fantastic for us. It’s great, and we all understand that the bench plays a vital role now in finishing off a game.
“Obviously all the forwards were fantastic, but the impact he (Gqoboka) made off the bench, that try he scored… Last week, he did the same thing – he made a short break down the short side and offloaded for a trial for Zak (Burger).
“And then in the scrums… To be fair, he is a great scrummager, and to hold him back is also great. I knew that Thomas and Ox would come hard at us, and I thought if we can just hold the… That’s why I deliberately, at halftime, swapped the two props around because of the impact that they would make.
“Some coaches might have waited for 20 or 30 minutes to go, but I wanted to give them the full half as he (Gqoboka) is playing really good rugby.
“He knows there’s an opportunity for him now that Beast (Mtawarira) is obviously retired. Hopefully he will get better and better, and then hopefully get back into the Springbok side for the Lions series.”
Captain Duane Vermeulen, who himself produced a much busier display in his second match back after a long layoff, lauded his teammates for being able to take on the Sharks on attack in the second half.
“We knew we were going to get a couple of high balls. The Sharks have a type of game plan where they want to… they don’t really play rugby in their half. We just had to handle that, and obviously in the first half, that happened quite a bit,” the Bok No 8 told SuperSport after the match.
“But in the second half, we kept the ball pretty much all the time to the end of the game. So, really happy with the performance, and also the guys stepping up and getting the opportunity to get the ball in their hands.”
The Bulls now top the log on 13 points after three matches, with the Sharks on 10, Stormers on seven and Lions on three. Next up for White’s team are the Lions in Johannesburg next Saturday (3.30pm kickoff).
Bulls 43 – Tries: Lizo Gqoboka, Stravino Jacobs, Schalk Erasmus, Chris Smith. Conversions: Morné Steyn (2), Smith (2). Penalties: Steyn (5).
Sharks 9 – Penalties: Curwin Bosch (3).