Bulls boss White keeps eye on the bigger prize

URC points table on his mind as Stormers derby looms

Bulls director of rugby Jake White is less concerned about the SA Shield
PLANNING AHEAD: Bulls director of rugby Jake White is less concerned about the SA Shield

Ever the pragmatist, Jake White is less bothered about the destiny of the SA Shield as he is finishing higher than the Stormers on the United Rugby Championship points table.

South African rugby’s most enduring rivalry will have another flashpoint on Saturday when the Bulls meet the Stormers, and the stakes, as ever, are high.

White underlined the significance of finishing high on the overall log.

“Who won the Wales conference two years ago?” the Bulls’ director of rugby asked rhetorically.

“It doesn’t matter. It is about staying ahead.

“You need to get a top four, top two if you want to go all the way in this competition.

“It gets tough at the back end of the competition and you need to play at home in those big games.”

Equally, White said he was  not weighed down by the Bulls’ unflattering record of seven straight defeats to the Stormers.

“I’m not worried about breaking the streak.”

He admits, though, the Stormers have had the Pretoria team’s number.

“What they do, they do really well. They are a settled team.

“Their coaching staff have been together for 10, 15 years at Western Province.

“We are getting better and I’m happier about where we are now in year three.

“We need to play our best rugby.

“We’ve never really played well against them.

“They don’t allow you to because they have a good defence.”

Though his team is five points clear of the Stormers on the points table, White  admits they have a few hurdles to overcome against the side he uses as a yardstick.

“We played Saracens here and played well, we played Bordeaux here and we played well and we played Leinster here and it doesn’t matter which calibre of Leinster side that was, we played really well against them.

“One side we haven’t played well against is the Stormers.

“We have to find ways of nullifying the things they do well.”

He speaks with envy of the Stormers’ ability to step up in the big moments.

In tight matches they tend to turn things in their favour through cool composure and sheer will.

“They have taken their chances. Whether they get a late penalty or bonus point try at the end. That has kept them going.”

White, a keen observer, if not devotee of tradition, is enthused by the prospect of seeing many Springboks going head to head at a packed Loftus Versfeld.

There is now the real prospect of tight heads Wilco Louw and Frans Malherbe leaving their fingerprints on proceedings for the Bulls and the Stormers, respectively, on Saturday.

“Wilco is ready to go,” White confirmed.

Last week, Stormers head coach John Dobson suggested Malherbe might be in action this week having not played since the 2023 Rugby World Cup final.

Assistant coach Rito Hlongwane brought that prospect a little closer to reality when he said earlier this week that Malherbe had a role to play on Saturday, adding his presence had lifted the players at training.

White said he had a fit squad but there were a few niggles he did not want to risk.

“We have rotated guys who have done well and pushed each other.

“People don’t just walk in and play.”

On that score, he used the example of Springbok utility back Canan Moodie who was available to play a few weeks ago but was kept waiting in the wings.

“We played another wing. It worked. Now Canan can’t wait to play.

“He realises there is competition for his jersey.”


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