The Vodacom Bulls will be desperate for Jake White’s guidance after a difficult start to the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season, writes DYLAN JACK.
After seven rounds of the season, the Bulls are way off the pace in the South African conference, sitting one point ahead of the last-placed Lions with just one win all season. Given that the Stormers and Jaguares are both 11 points ahead – and the Sharks a distant 18 points – it speaks to how different 2020 has been for the Pretoria-based team, who were setting the pace in South Africa in 2019.
The fight that broke out between fans during the loss to the Jaguares is a symptomatic – if somewhat extreme – example of the frustration felt among the Loftus Versfeld faithful, who became accustomed to seeing their team playing with confidence and an edge last year.
It has been an incredibly disappointing season for the Bulls, despite their difficulties in the off-season. Losing five senior locks, key forward duo Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits was enough of a hammer blow, but then there were the departures of Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel to deal with as well.
Of course, it has not helped that their replacements have failed to live up to their billing. Juandre Kruger and Andries Ferreira have been functional, at best, rather than spectacular and the same can be said about Josh Strauss and Morne Steyn.
The Bulls have certainly missed Pollard’s physicality on the gainline. While Steyn has filled the gap in terms of experience and has kicked well out of hand, he simply doesn’t bring the same threat that Pollard does when running with the ball.
One flyhalf who does possess that – potentially at least – is Manie Libbok but coach Pote Human has been strangely conservative when it has come to giving the 22-year-old an opportunity. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Bulls have looked most effective on attack when he has been on the field.
Aided by halfback partner Embrose Papier, his impact as a substitute against the Stormers at Newlands nearly resulted in a try – only for Cornal Hendricks to memorably make a shocker of a decision to lose possession – while he enjoyed an outstanding second half in the Bulls only win of the season against the Highlanders. The two were also instrumental in helping the team to a half-time lead against the Reds in Brisbane, before they were both bafflingly substituted at the break, with the Australians turning the game and going to record a comfortable victory.
With all this said, it is no surprise that the Bulls have turned to Jake White as their new director of rugby. The former Springbok coach has had mixed fortunes since leaving the Test scene. He helped the Brumbies to a Super Rugby final, but his stint at the Sharks was less successful, with players reportedly unhappy with his management style.
However, it is clear that White does have the IP and experience to steady the ship. Human’s job will, of course, come into question, but White reportedly holds him in high regard, so he could survive beyond this season. Still, changes are bound to be made at both a senior and junior level, with the recruitment strategy and tactical approach high on White’s to-do list.
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