Jake drawing on French experience to help Bulls navigate semi-final minefields

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Bulls director of rugby Jake White at Newlands before their Currie Cup match against Western Province on 28 November 2020.
Bulls director of rugby Jake White at Newlands before their Currie Cup match against Western Province on 28 November 2020.
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  • Jake White is drawing on his experience in French rugby to help his Bulls navigate the potential minefield of going into the Currie Cup semis as the team that finished top of the log.
  • As the Bulls director of rugby notes, finishing top and not having much game time going into a playoff can become a stumbling block.
  • In terms of their game plan, the Bulls don't plan on going into their shell for the clash against the Lions.

While the four Currie Cup semi-finalists' almost equal lack of game-time going into this weekend's round of playoffs is undeniably a leveller for all, Jake White is hoping to draw on his experiences in the French Top 14 previously to help his Bulls navigate the minefield.

The franchise's director of rugby is fully aware of the fact that - in the absence of meaningful on-field action over the past three weeks - his charges' billing of finishing top of the log will place undue pressure on them.

As a result, White has accessed his memory bank and applied lessons from his time at Montpellier for the current challenge.

"It’s the same for everybody, it’s interesting to see what kind of games you’re going to get. All four semi-finalists haven’t played for some time," the Bulls mentor noted ahead of Saturday's clash with the Lions at Loftus.

"I’m actually used to this (type of situation) from previous experience, because in France the first and the second team on the log in the Top 14 don’t play on the weekend there’s a quarter-final.

"After the quarters, there’s obviously a semi-final. So it’s similar in the French league in that you somewhere have a week off if you finished in the top two.

"Sometimes, the teams that finished first and second in the French league didn’t win the competition. It’s one of the lower-ranked teams that played the quarters, semis and finals that win it.

"So there are positives and negatives to whatever competition you’re playing in and what situation you find yourself in."

Why home advantage without fans still matters

Despite some observers claiming that home advantage in a tournament without spectators is largely irrelevant, White disagrees:

"Home playoffs is what we've been concentrating on. Even though there are no crowds, there's still a massive bonus of sleeping in your own bed and being in your own changeroom. 

"All the small things of playing at home really does still matter."

However, except for that unique, value-adding insight, White isn't planning on imparting any fancy ideas on his charges in their quest for the title.

"At the end of the day, whether it’s one or two tournaments or two-in-one, having coached in Champions Cups and Challenge Cups and World Cups, you want to be in the playoffs and make sure that when the last round is played, you’re playing in that final," he said.

"We’ve done everything right, we’ve got ourselves into a home semi-final. It's the first box ticked. We’ve put the hard yards in. All you want to do is get the lotto ticket for being in the playoffs and make sure you’re still alive for the final. That’s what we’re concentrating on."

Consequently, that will also translate into the Bulls not resorting to pulling any rabbits out of the hat, especially with some quarters crying out for "playoff rugby" or "winning rugby".

Yes, the Bulls still base their game around a dominant pack, but their try- and point-scoring exploits provide ample evidence of the team from Loftus being far more agile and versatile as some are willing to concede.


15 David Kriel, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Erasmus, 1 Lizo Gqoboka

Substitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Jan Uys, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren


15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole

Substitutes: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 Francke Horn, 24 Nathan McBeth, 25 EW Viljoen, 26 Ross Cronje

"I've learnt over the years coaching in Australia, Japan and France that you can change things around, but in an overall sense, not just in a single game," said White.

"We're not one-dimensional and I'm grateful some people are noticing it. We're going to continue playing like that. This is knockout rugby, we've got Morne Steyn controlling things, it's almost like it's his arena. He's been here many years and won a lot.

"We've got ourselves here by doing the things we do well. We need to back ourselves. It's no use going into our shells. We've beaten all of the semi-finalists at least once, some of them twice. There's no reason for us not to feel confident sticking to the things we do well.

"But if we see need to change tactically, we can do it."

Kick-off at Loftus is at 14:00 on Saturday.

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