The Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen (C) has led by example in Super Rugby Unlocked. Picture: Christiaan Kotze/EPA
The Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen (C) has led by example in Super Rugby Unlocked. Picture: Christiaan Kotze/EPA

Super Rugby Unlocked title is just the beginning for Jake White’s Bulls

By Ashfak Mohamed Time of article published Nov 18, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - Last year, the Blue Bulls were staring at a possible liquidation in the face. Fast forward to November 2020, and they are Super Rugby Unlocked champions in waiting.

It has been a whirlwind ride this year for Bulls president Willem Strauss. A failed Super Rugby campaign in February and March saw the Pretoria-based team languishing second-last in the South African Conference, with just six points from a lone victory and five defeats.

Coach Pote Human was eventually let go, and Jake White was brought in as the new director of rugby and head coach.

But the clean-out didn’t end there. White brought some new faces into the coaching staff, such as defence guru Joey Mongalo and former Bulls head coach Nollis Marais to concentrate on the breakdowns, while Russell Winter returned as the forwards coach.

The Bulls also made a number of shrewd player signings, including the likes of Duane Vermeulen, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Jacques van Rooyen.

Off the pitch, Strauss and his executive opted for a young new chief executive in Edgar Rathbone, who had been in charge of Ellis Park, and the fresh group of soldiers set about returning the glory to Loftus.

But it nearly didn’t get to that point. Dwindling crowd attendances over the last few years and a lack of silverware meant that financial challenges were real during 2019.

In stepped Mamelodi Sundowns boss and mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, who cut a deal with the Bulls company and fellow businessman Johann Rupert to claim a joint-majority 37% shareholding last November.

“We are all feeling the same pain because of Covid-19, so there’s no difference between us and the next guy. (But) I can tell you one thing – if we did not do the deal with Mr Motsepe and Mr Rupert last year, I think we would’ve been closed down – seriously. I can put it like that,” Strauss told the Pretoria News yesterday.

“Definitely some brave decisions. We started some time ago with the Rupert-Motsepe deal, and then the appointment of Jake was sort of the missing piece of the puzzle. Look, I tell you, one thing about Mr White – I put him under immediate pressure!

“I told him it’s been 10 years since we won any bloody thing, and he just embraced it. He didn’t run away from it at all, and said ‘Ja, fine, Willem’! I’m so over the moon with him, and the new CEO Edgar Rathbone as well. We are really in a happy environment and a great space, and have also won the SA Under-21 title.

“So, slowly but surely, we are turning the ship around. But it’s not like this is now the end of it. This is just the beginning, but it’s good to start getting results, and it encourages the supporters, and it’s positive for everybody in the value chain.”

Despite the Super Rugby Unlocked title being virtually in the bag, Strauss still spoke cautiously about yesterday’s developments. The cancellation of the Sharks-Stormers game means that the Bulls only have a highly unlikely chance of missing out on the title – the Pumas would have to beat them by 43 points at Loftus on Saturday for the Stormers to end on top on points difference.

Sevens star Kurt-Lee Arendse has added a lot of firepower to the Bulls’ attack. Picture: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

“Champions in waiting – just to emphasise that, in waiting! Still need to get past Saturday, and a lot of things can still happen. We saw what happened between the Pumas (Argentina) and All Blacks. But it’s looking good,” Strauss said.

“From my perspective, it’s absolutely brilliant, appropriate for the Bulls to say farewell to Super Rugby, by winning Super Rugby Unlocked competition on Saturday, because we are the only South African team that has won it in the past – three times.

“It was a great competition, and now it’s a great way to say goodbye to Super Rugby. Now we look forward to bigger and better challenges in Europe. It’s quite nice to be able to do that on Saturday.”

@ashfakmohamed

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