Bulls’ Jake White tickled pink after huge display of depth in Champions Cup

Vodacom Bulls' Director of Rugby Jake White during the Investec Champions Cup Round 2 clash at Matmut Stadium de Gerland, Lyon

Bulls coach Jake White’s decision to keep his regular starters back home to prepare for Saturday’s massive United Rugby Championship showdown with the Stormers in Cape Town paid off. Picture: Fred Porcu/INPHO/Shutterstock

Published Dec 18, 2023


If ever Bulls fans had concerns about their team’s ability to be title contenders this season, those would have been allayed by their gutsy performance in Lyon over the weekend.

The Pretoria side went down 29-28 at the Stade Gerland, but they gained a valuable losing bonus point in their quest to reach the last 16 of the Champions Cup.

More than that, though, it was the manner in which a second-string Bulls outfit went toe-to-toe with a full-strength Lyon and nearly pulled off a memorable victory. In fact, they could argue that they were unfortunate to be on the wrong end of Scottish referee Mike Adamson’s whistle a number of times on Saturday night.

Replacement flyhalf Jaco van der Walt also blew a chance to clinch a remarkable triumph by pulling a 76th-minute penalty left of the uprights, and they had at least two 5m line-outs that were also wasted.

Paying dividends

But despite all of that, coach Jake White’s decision to keep his regular starters back home to prepare for Saturday’s massive United Rugby Championship showdown with the Stormers in Cape Town paid off.

From fullback Devon Williams to loosehead prop Simphiwe Matanzima, each Bulls starter played their part in pushing Lyon all the way.

The best Bull on the night, though, was undoubtedly No 5 lock Janko Swanepoel, who was all over the field on attack and defence, and he was well-supported by former Pumas second-rower Deon Slabbert.

Matanzima, Jan-Hendrik Wessels and Mornay Smith stood strong in the scrums and got involved in broken play as well.

It was perhaps among the replacements where Lyon’s class and experience made a considerable difference, with hooker Yanis Charcosset, in particular, making a few decisive runs and scoring a try.

White did not address the media afterwards due to network connectivity issues at the Stade Gerland, but expressed his happiness with the effort in a short statement.

“We are disappointed to walk away from the match as the side that lost because we will probably walk away feeling as if we should have won that one,” White said, “which is impressive for us.

“It is a sign of the great depth that we are working on as a club – to be able to rotate our side, and come to France and take the game to them like we did.

Stay in the game

“To stay in the game and in the end lose by one point is a sign of how tight and how tough this competition is. You need to be on top of your game from start to finish ... otherwise, you allow the other side an opportunity to steal it from you.

“Having said all that, I am extremely proud of the character and spirit that the team showed to stay in the fight right until the very last minute and the last play of the match – the boys must take that as a pat on the back.

“We will get better and we will learn as we go forward, even if sometimes the results do not go your way. We now return home with a point away from home, and we will go back to work on Monday as we prepare for another big week ahead.”

Of course, the Stormers clash is arguably the biggest of the season so far for the Bulls, considering the fact that John Dobson’s Cape side have won the last six encounters in a row – and they come off a 21-20 win over double defending Champions Cup champions La Rochelle.

But now White will be able to call on a fresh team for the Cape Town Stadium, which will include World Cup-winning Springboks such as Willie le Roux, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie, as well as key forwards such as Wilco Louw, Elrigh Louw and Cameron Hanekom.

The Pretoria outfit will also hope that lock Ruan Nortjé recovers in time from a hamstring injury.