Little steps for Bulls, says ‘really proud’ Jake

Bulls players celebrate with the SA Shield plate as the leading local team after beating the Sharks in Durban. Photo: BackpagePix

Bulls players celebrate with the SA Shield plate as the leading local team after beating the Sharks in Durban. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 3, 2024


While the Bulls will be sweating on a few injury concerns for Saturday’s United Rugby Championship quarter-final, coach Jake White said he was proud his team have given themselves “a really good chance to win this competition”.

The Pretoria side just missed out on topping the URC log, having seen off the Sharks 26-14 in a hard-fought bonus-point triumph at Kings Park last Saturday to end the league phase on 66 points.

That means the Bulls will now host Benetton in the quarter-finals at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday (3.30pm), and will also play in Pretoria if they reach the semi-finals.

White was particularly delighted with the grit shown in defence, and how the front row of Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar and Wilco Louw got the edge over the much-vaunted Sharks trio of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch.

But now the major worry will be the injuries sustained by Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, Marco van Staden and Cameron Hanekom – with White stating that Van Staden is unlikely to be ready to play against Benetton, although he was more optimistic about the others being fit to feature.

The Bulls started poorly by giving away an early try when a long Grobbelaar five-metre line-out throw-in was fumbled, and Sharks flyhalf Siya Masuku dotted down.

But the visitors slowly wore down the energetic but ultimately out-gunned Sharks, with the likes of Player-of-the-Match Elrigh Louw, Hanekom and Arendse prominent, while flyhalf Johan Goosen and fullback Willie le Roux produced some silky touches on attack.

Bulls No 8 Cameron Hanekom charges towards Sharks centre Ethan Hooker at Kings Park on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

“Playing in Durban, the handling is always an issue. It is one of the venues with the weather that is difficult to play in. But when I look back, there’s no doubt that having a week off and playing against a team that played last week comes with a challenge as well,” White said.

“We did look a little bit rusty and under pressure when we had to execute certain things. But at the end of the day, we ended up getting the five points and winning the game.

“I can’t stress it enough: We played really well. Again we scored four tries, and again, even though we made so many mistakes, we still looked like we can score from anywhere – that was good.

“Also what I enjoyed is when we had to maul and score tries at the end, our forwards could do that as well.”

— Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial_RSA) June 1, 2024

The Bulls scored nine tries in a 56-35 triumph over Benetton on May 18 at Loftus, and will be confident of getting past the Italian outfit once more. But the men from Treviso were impressive in dispatching Edinburgh 31-6 in Italy on Saturday.

“People talk about us having a home semi, but we’ve still got to win the quarter-final,” White said.

“It’s little steps. We lost in the final in the first year, we caught the Stormers again in the second year in the quarter-finals and lost.

“Maybe this is an example of all the lessons we learnt in the two years, as we get a home quarter and home semi if we win that game, which we haven’t had – so already there is a massive difference to where we are as a group.

— Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial_RSA) June 1, 2024

“I couldn’t have asked for more than what they did (Saturday) ... And I’m really proud."