While Bulls boss Jake White praised Russell Winter for the “tremendous offering” he provided to the team, the Pretoria side are set to unveil a Stormers legend as their new forwards coach.
Winter, a former Lions No 8 who has also been part of the Stormers coaching staff previously, bid farewell to Loftus Versfeld this week and will move to the Far East at Kubota Spears in Japan.
We bid farewell to Coach Russel Winter 💪 In over 3 years with the @Vodacom Bulls coach Russel helped us to two Currie Cup’s and one Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked trophy 🏆— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) July 18, 2023
Thanks for the memories! We wish you all the best in Japan, Cuz! 🐂 pic.twitter.com/qlu7YXf78X
The 47-year-old will join forces with a former Bulls head coach in Frans Ludeke, who is in charge at the Spears, who are located around 35km outside Tokyo, where he will guide the pack as well.
“Leaving the Bulls is not easy and certainly I did not think it would be an easy decision, but it is one that I had to make because the Kubota Spears present the opportunity for me to take my long-term coaching goals a level up, in the sense that it is a franchise that is based abroad,” Winter said this week.
“I will treasure the relationships made with all the players, management and fans the most, because they made the early mornings and late nights all worth it. Loftus is a special place, and I am confident that our paths will cross again in the future.”
White added: “He has been a tremendous addition to our coaching staff. His experience and knowledge of the game has been a tremendous offering for our players and for the success that we have all enjoyed.
“It is never easy to say goodbye to colleagues, but in the same breath, he has a wonderful opportunity, and I wish him all the best in Japan.
“What an incredible country and people that he is going to. I am confident that he will get something out of his time there as much as the people will. Japan is a wonderful place for rugby.”
IOL Sport understands that the Bulls already have a replacement lined up for Winter in the shape of ex-Springbok lock Andries Bekker.
The former No 5, who played over 100 matches for the Stormers – and 29 Bok Tests – moved to the Kobe Steelers in Japan in 2013, retired from playing in 2018 and has been part of the coaching group at the club ever since.
Now 39, Bekker posted on Instagram in early May: “It’s been an unreal 10 years with great mates and millions of beers. Thank you @kobesteelers_official #timetogohome #homeiswithyou @elainebekker”
His wife Elaine responded: “Proud is an understatement! Love you and see soon for a tjoppie”
Bekker is set to meet up with the Bulls squad next week at Loftus Versfeld, where they will begin their pre-season training in earnest ahead of the start of the United Rugby Championship in October.
The Bulls have made a number of signings in recent months, including Springbok fullback Willie le Roux and Edinburgh No 15 Henry Immelman, outside backs Sergeal Petersen and Sebastian de Klerk, flyhalf Jaco van der Walt and forwards Wilco Louw, Khutha Mchunu, Akker van der Merwe, Jannes Kirsten and Mpilo Gumede.
White’s team begin their campaign against the Scarlets at Loftus on Sunday, October 22 (3pm kickoff), followed by Ulster the following Sunday in Pretoria as well.