Bulls the Liverpool, Manchester United of rugby, says Jake White
CAPE TOWN - The “sleeping giant” at Loftus Versfeld has awoken, and now it’s ready to conquer the rugby world.
Jake White’s Bulls completed a remarkable turnaround in the franchise’s fortunes on Saturday when they got the job done to claim the Super Rugby Unlocked title with a 21-5 victory over the Pumas.
It was their first major piece of silverware in a decade, having last tasted glory by winning the 2010 Super Rugby title, and the success came after a forgettable campaign earlier this year.
Under coach Pote Human, the Bulls registered a lone victory in six matches and languished in fourth place in the South African Conference. They had scored the joint least amount of tries (14), the second fewest points, and had seemingly run out of ideas of how to win matches.
Then Covid-19 arrived to herald the end of the tournament, and the Bulls bosses made some tough decisions. They appointed a new coaching staff under White and let go of more than 12 players, including captain Burger Odendaal.
They also made a number of signings, such as Duane Vermeulen, Stedman Gans and Jacques van Rooyen, but the difficulty for White and his staff was that he didn’t have much of an opportunity to test his players before SRU started.
Despite a few teething problems, it all came together and ended with a shiny new trophy held aloft by skipper Vermeulen and Trevor Nyakane.
“I’m very happy. I signed for this franchise on the basis that they are a sleeping giant,” White said.
“This is one of the best franchises in the world – this is the Liverpool or the Man United of rugby. You look at the teams around the world and the Bulls will be up there.
“You look at the Real Madrids, Juventuses, Liverpools or Man Uniteds, if you went to the top five or six, seven rugby clubs in the world, this would be one of them.
“So for me to come here – and that was one of the reasons I came here – was that I wanted to get this union to win some silverware. It’s fantastic – not just for me but for the whole union. This union hasn’t won anything for 10 years.
“We get measured on results and I’m happy. I’m back in South Africa and coaching South African players.”
Captain Vermeulen’s run of success continued after being Man of the Match in the World Cup final last year, and he thanked “the people who have stuck with us through the difficult times. Hopefully, there is more to come”.
Now the Bulls will take aim at a second trophy this season, with the Currie Cup starting this weekend. They travel to Cape Town to take on Western Province at Newlands on Saturday (7pm kick-off) and will look to consolidate their four-point lead over Province and the Sharks, with all the teams carrying their log points over from the SRU tournament.
White mentioned that one of the issues he will grapple with is whether to stick with the same team that has done the business up to now, or give some of the players a breather and more game time to others.
But for now they will savour the fact that the glory days are well and truly back at Loftus Versfeld.