Bulls’ Jake White: There’s a difference between the science and art of coaching

Marcell Coetzee of the Vodacom Blue Bulls tackled by DHL Western Province players in the Currie Cup game played at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town

File. Bulls coach Jake White says relying on instinct plays a big part in being successful, which was demonstrated in his side’s United Rugby Championship win over the Lions on the weekend. Seen here: Bulls player Marcell Coetzee with the ball. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Feb 19, 2024


Bulls coach Jake White has almost seen and done it all in rugby, but one thing he doesn’t like to do is pre-plan his substitutions in the second half of a game.

With his Bulls team producing a sloppy opening half of their United Rugby Championship derby against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday, they were leading just 5-3 at half-time.

But enter the likes of hooker Akker van der Merwe, loose forward Marcell Coetzee and flyhalf Johan Goosen, and it was suddenly a different ball-game as the Pretoria outfit pulled off a 25-10 bonus-point victory to go to the top of the log – at least temporarily – on 35 points.

“When is the right time to bring them on? One thing I teach coaches is that you can’t pre-plan that – you’ve got to have a feel for it,” White said afterwards.

Going with instinct

“There is a difference between the science of coaching and art of coaching, and one thing I’ve learnt is that you can’t tell a player when there are 20 minutes left that they are going on, because that might be exactly the wrong time – I’ve seen that many times.

“Very happy, the coaches are all on par... I bounced it off the forwards coaches, and even at half-time, what should we do? Remember that we had a six-two split, and lost Elrigh (Louw) early on.

“Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong, and it definitely worked in our favour in terms of the timing.”

Despite getting enough possession inside the Lions’ half, the Bulls found ways to halt their own momentum on attack with a series of handling errors.

The Lions themselves were also guilty of wasting hard-won ball with a number of box-kicks from scrumhalf Morné van den Berg, while even flyhalf Sanele Nohamba used the boot too often.

The only memorable moment from the opening 40 minutes was the Bulls’ opening try, by wing Canan Moodie, which began with yet another powerful shove by prop Gerhard Steenekamp in a scrum, where he got the better of in-form Lions tighthead Asenathi Ntlabakanye all day long.

Star No8 Cameron Hanekom burst away and fed a flying Embrose Papier – the Player of the Match – who put Moodie away, and the Springbok wing was able to get up from an ankle-tap from Lions No 8 Francke Horn to score.

But following two more mistakes after half-time from the Bulls, White made the big call to bring on Van der Merwe for Johan Grobbelaar at hooker and Goosen for Jaco van der Walt at flyhalf.

Lions can’t catch a break

The Lions, though, were unlucky not to take the lead in the 49th minute when wing Richard Kriel dived over, as it was ruled out by a forward pass.

That was the cue for the Bulls to take charge, and it was that man Van der Merwe who grabbed the second try off the back of a driving maul in the 52nd minute.

With 12 minutes to go, Van der Merwe made another bullocking run, which eventually saw Coetzee dart over.

After a consolation try by Lions fullback Quan Horn, the Bulls finished things off in style as inside centre David Kriel produced a wonderful chip-and-chase to grab the bonus point.

“Initially we lost a bit of set-piece, and we couldn’t get into our attack structure. With individual errors on top of that, we gave them set-piece to attack from and pin us in our own half,” Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen said.

“We just didn’t really manage to get any momentum on attack, like consistently, and that’s frustrating because we wanted to attack them... Just scrappy.”