Cape Town – Bulls coach Jake White said he will largely stick to the group of fringe players from last week for Saturday’s Champions Cup showdown against Exeter Chiefs (3pm kick-off).
The Director of Rugby at Loftus Versfeld sprung a surprise last week by picking what could be described as a B team to face French club Lyon, as he rested his top players like Springboks Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie and Marco van Staden.
But they did the almost unthinkable to emerge 42-36 victors in Pretoria after running up a 28-0 lead in the first half, and then holding on desperately at the end for a deserved triumph.
Now they have to deal with a 24-hour journey to England.
“In a nutshell, it will be the same sort of guys who played last week, for a lot of reasons. I would like to give them an opportunity to build on what they did last week. They’ve gotten to know each other a lot better under pressure,” White said during a press conference on Tuesday.
“Also, we had to play Leinster last year in the semi-finals and then had to come back to play in Cape Town – the travel coming back and economy class tickets – I just thought we learnt from that last season.
“We are playing the Stormers next Friday night in Cape Town. We fly tonight via Doha, arrive in Exeter tomorrow evening 6pm, and then leave there early Sunday morning and get here midday Monday, and then expect us to be ready for the Stormers game …
“So, taking nothing away from the fact that we respect Exeter, we need to be at our best for the Stormers as well – and we are on a high after playing so nicely with this group of players. It’s about making sure we do what’s best for our group.”
Of course, the Bulls lost all three United Rugby Championship (URC) games to the Stormers last season – including the 18-13 defeat in the final – but White said it was not about prioritising next Friday’s URC encounter at Cape Town Stadium over the Champions Cup game against Exeter.
“We would like to do well in both competitions, but I am also a realist. To understand, and I think people need to appreciate it: To win the Champions Cup, it means that on three consecutive weekends, you have to beat Toulouse, Leinster and La Rochelle,” the former Springbok coach said.
“Now I don’t want to be a defeatist, but to be realist: Do we have the squads in South Africa to match La Rochelle, Leinster and Toulouse on three consecutive weekends, away from home – as we will have to play (away) because of the participation agreement?
“It is not saying that every game doesn’t count, or that the URC is more important. To be fair, there is no way a group of players can fly around the world to play Exeter and then fly back to face the Stormers – it is about using the resources at our disposal.
“Exeter will also play us here in 40°C as they come out of their winter, so it will be a daunting task for them as well.
“If we had a week off next week, then definitely yes, I would take my main guys and give them a game. But the SA Rugby mandate is that we can only play them for 32 matches per season. So, you have to be very smart about how you use your players.”
White added that lock Jacques du Plessis will be out for about six weeks after an operation on a broken hand, while centre Marco Jansen van Vuren was about to go under the knife for his knee injury that will keep him sidelined for up to three months.
Bulls Tour Squad
Dylan Smith, Bismarck du Plessis, Sebastian Lombard, Reinhardt Ludwig, Janko Swanepoel, Nizaam Carr, Muller Uys, WJ Steenkamp, Bernard van der Linde, Morne Steyn, Stravino Jacobs, Carlton Bannies, Stedman Gans, Sibongile Novuka, Lizo Gooboka, Joe van Zyl, Jacques van Rooyen, Merwe Olivier, Cameron Hanekom, Phumzile Maqondwana, Tielman Nieuwoudt, Keagan Johannes, Chris Barend Smit, Niel le Roux, Kabelo Mokoena, Juan Mostert, Wandisile Simelane, Tian Lange.