Super Rugby

Jake's Bulls WON'T turn world-beaters overnight

Jake White (Gallo Images)
Jake White (Gallo Images)

Few prizes for guessing which high-profile domestic team have beefed up their squad resources the most during rugby's extended lockdown period: it’s got to be the Bulls, by a near-landslide.

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New, vastly seasoned mastermind Jake White has used a combination of a pretty enviable budget and some plain old shrewdness in bargain-hunting to bring in a raft of fresh (and some returning) faces to Loftus in readiness for a yet-to-be-named SA competition likely to begin in early September.

But is that going to rapidly propel the Bulls back to levels of glory last experienced in the heydays of Victor Matfield, Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez and other major poster figures of the era?

Whether it is a souped-up Currie Cup or something closer in theme to the country's own version of a "Super Rugby Aotearoa", I'm likely to be sticking for the time being to a suspicion that the Sharks and Stormers/WP will continue to be domestic pace-setters, as they were to the point when fuller Super Rugby 2020 was shut down in March.

But I'll throw in a proviso: that the two coastal teams earn sufficient weeks at full strength to gain a head of steam before any Springbok obligations come into play.

With Bok head coach Jacques Nienaber stressing that an unprecedented 45-strong national squad may be required for a one-country-hosted Rugby Championship in a quarantine climate, both the Durban and Cape Town-based sides would be significantly raided, you'd think, for selection purposes.

Then, and perhaps only then, might the reshaping Bulls begin to climb the ladder meaningfully toward a concerted onslaught on the silverware.

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White will do very well to establish continuity and precision quickly: whatever the first match-day XV he puts together, it will be significantly different from the one that began the last Super Rugby game under Pote Human’s charge against the Reds in Brisbane on 14 March (a 41-17 drubbing after such a promising start).

That was before the injection of such new faces as Duane Vermeulen, Arno Botha, Nizaam Carr, Gio Aplon, Clinton Swart and Marcel van der Merwe.

The new-look backline, for example, may feasibly differ by 100 percent from the unit who took to the field in Queensland, especially considering the subsequent offloading of Manie Libbok, Burger Odendaal, Warrick Gelant and Johnny Kotze to elsewhere.

And while I expect the Bulls to have (or quickly develop) plentiful collective pack grunt under White's tutelage, loyal Loftus supporters have reason to be just a little concerned over how much X-factor they’ll sport in the key tactical slots of Nos 10 and 12.

There's little in the way of proven back-up to 36-year-old, metronomic-kicking Steyn at flyhalf, and if the well-travelled Swart, for example, is installed at inside centre they will have good muscle but not an awful lot of guile and pace ... the
midfield as a whole still looks a vulnerable area for them.

So I'm stopping short of predicting overnight success, but let's wait and see.

*Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer. Follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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