Past Stormers defeats ‘irrelevant’, but that doesn’t mean Bulls’ Jake White isn’t worried

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White. Picture: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White. Picture: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published May 6, 2023


Cape Town - Few rugby pundits are giving the Bulls any chance of beating the Stormers in Saturday afternoon’s United Rugby Championship quarter-final at the Cape Town Stadium (3.30pm kickoff).

Deep down, even some Bulls fans will have little hope of celebrating a first URC victory over their great Cape rivals.

Listening to Jake White speak on Friday, you may wonder whether the coach himself truly believes that his side can do the almost unthinkable and finally get rid of the Stormers hoodoo once and for all.

“I think they’ve got everything. People underestimate how good they are. They’ve got a good scrum, good lineout, they maul well and then they’ve got X-factor in their backs. And to be fair, Manie (Libbok) has scored lots and lots of points with his boot as well. There’s nothing you can earmark and say ‘Listen, there is a soft target and we are going to go for it’,” the former Springbok boss said.

“We’ve just got to play well tomorrow – that’s what knockout rugby is about. It’s about taking your chances, putting them under pressure… No different to the speech that they will get tomorrow.

“They are a solid team, and you don’t become URC champions for nothing. They’ve gone the whole hog last year and won, they have a phenomenal record at home and a phenomenal group of players all vying for World Cup spots – and playing at home in front of a big crowd.”

Phew – the Bulls might as well not turn up in the Mother City. But that us-against-the-world mentality could just flip the required switch on for the men from Pretoria.

They don’t have the same momentum as they did going into last year’s final in Cape Town, despite some easy wins over Zebre and a weak Leinster side recently.

They suffered a late blow when Marcell Coetzee was ruled out due to an administrative issue; Johan Goosen again showcased his vulnerable self in the WP defeat last week, and is carrying a hamstring issue; the loose trio lacks that attacking spark that Coetzee could’ve provided; and the tight-five lacks a bit of grunt that they will be getting in bucket-loads from the Springbok-laden Stormers pack.

But no one gave the Bulls a chance of beating Leinster in a Dublin semi-final last year either. Yet they pulled off a remarkable triumph at the RDS Arena, and White mentioned yesterday that his players are in the “right mental space” for the Stormers showdown.

The visitors, though, will need a lot to go their way this time – which White also feels hasn’t been the case in previous games against John Dobson’s team. Whether it’s a referee’s call – Jaco Peyper will have the whistle in the middle – making a tackle, avoiding a knock-on or winning a crucial lineout to set up a maul, the Bulls cannot afford to make unforced errors.

And then they require their big names to make the big plays. Top of that list are Bok stars Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie, while Goosen will hope to revisit his finest display in a Bulls jersey so far when he masterminded a thrilling victory over SA A at the very same Cape Town Stadium.

Can Elrigh Louw knock over Evan Roos? Will Marco van Staden match Deon Fourie’s energy at the breakdowns? Will Gerhard Steenekamp and Mornay Smith handle Bok heavyweights Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe in the scrums?

“We beat SA A and have played well there before, and used last week (against WP) as a dress-rehearsal for what it’s going to be like – the surface, the hotel, the vibe. I’m sure there will be a lot more people this time, but we played in the final there last year and played well enough to win that game,” White said.

“We lost by one score, but we were good enough to win that game. Hopefully this will be the time to make sure that we get a result.

“We’ve just got to do some things as well as we can. Last year a couple of times, we probably didn’t get some calls that I think we could’ve got, which changed the outcome of the game.

“It was five points in it – that’s how close it was. In the last game at Loftus, we lost a lineout on their tryline in the last play of the game. Literally, it’s been one play away from winning the game.

“It’s knockout rugby: whatever happened last year, last month, last week is irrelevant. It’s an opportunity to advance to the next round of the competition. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve won or lost, how many bonus points you got, how many tries you scored… It’s all or nothing in one 80-minute hit-out.

“This week starts from zero. The bottom line is that you’ve got 80 minutes to win a game, and nothing you did in the past or last week is going to count for anything.

“We know we are up against it. We know that these young Bulls players who have developed have a massive challenge on their hands tomorrow, but I am fully confident that every time we’ve had to play in a knockout game, or have had to front up – other than the (URC) final – we’ve generally played our best rugby.

“I’m hoping that tomorrow will be no different.”

Bulls Team

15 Kurt-Lee Arendse 14 Canan Moodie 13 Stedman Gans 12 Harold Vorster 11 David Kriel 10 Johan Goosen 9 Embrose Papier 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Cyle Brink 6 Marco van Staden 5 Ruan Nortjé (captain) 4 Ruan Vermaak 3 Mornay Smith 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.

Bench: 16 Bismarck du Plessis 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Francois Klopper 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Nizaam Carr 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Chris Smith 23 Lionel Mapoe.