United Rugby Championship

How do the Bulls solve a problem like Trevor Nyakane? They hire an extra coach

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Werner Kruger at his first Bulls session.  (Supplied)
Werner Kruger at his first Bulls session. (Supplied)
  • The Bulls have shown with their approach to filling the void left by Trevor Nyakane that they're not the freewheeling spenders some perceive them to be. 
  • Initially in the market for a replacement, Jake White and co realised there weren't suitable candidates and have instead invested in coaches to develop existing players - evidenced by Werner Kruger's appointment. 
  • The signs are already encouraging based on the Bulls' early scrumming form in the Currie Cup.

When Mornay Smith packs down to face Steven Kitshoff in the first scrum of Saturday's United Rugby Championship (URC) derby between the Bulls and Stormers, it should go some way to helping shed the perception that Jake White and co are "buying" success.

That was always going to be a talking point once Loftus' director of rugby nailed down the signatures of premium players such as Marcell Coetzee, Johan Goosen and Arno Botha.

No amount of explanation on the matter - that those men took significant pay-cuts and that every URC franchise in the country has to abide to a salary cap in excess of R60 million - has been enough to convince detractors that the Bulls aren't freewheeling spenders.

Then came Trevor Nyakane's departure for France last month.

Initially, White intimated that the Bulls would launch a search for a suitable candidate to replace their Springbok star, but any reasonably involved rugby fan could tell you that the market isn't exactly oozing top-class tightheads.

And those that are pedigreed - Wilco Louw, Vincent Koch, Coenie Oosthuizen - cost double digit millions.

So, once it became clear that Smith and the evergreen Jacques van Rooyen would be ready for the new year to swell the stocks again alongside Robert Hunt, Mhleli Dlamini and Sebastian Lombard, White sat with his board and came up with a work-around.

"One thing I learnt from football is that it's common for elite teams to have a player in the Premier League that's costing £250 000 per week. So what they do in their model is pay £100 000 to £200 000 per year for a physio and make sure they have 10 high-quality ones on their staff," the former Springbok World Cup-winning coach said.

"It's cheaper for them to have that player rehabbed and back on the field as quick as possible than it would be for him to sit out three to four weeks. Imagine the salary cap implications of losing a Lionel Messi or Ronaldo for a month.

"That's what we spoke about as a board. We explored whether such a situation existed when Trevor left for France. And we determined that it doesn't because there simply aren't quality tightheads just walking around.

"It's a market where you've got to produce tightheads. We've had Wilco Louw and Neethling Fouche here years ago and we let them go. So, what we've realised is that maybe we're sitting with tightheads in our system that might be better than the ones we've been looking to buy."

But to do that one needs to provide quality growth opportunities for an under-rated diamond like the 23-year-old Smith, who's already grown immensely over the past 18 months.

That comes with top-class coaching, hence the decision to rope in former Springbok prop and Bulls legend Werner Kruger as scrum consultant.

"It's about producing better players and creating a coaching environment where we can become a great side. We feel, as a union, that we need a prop who can help us with the scrums. Werner ticks that box," said White.

"He played 380 first-class games, he was a die-hard Bulls player and ended his career by playing for the Scarlets in Wales for five years.

"He understands the northern hemisphere, the refereeing interpretations and scrumming tactics. It's value-adding.

"It's a dual role where we're using his expertise. He can help us develop our coaches like (Currie Cup assistant) Edgar Marutlulle - who I believe can become far more than just a scrum guru - Russell Winter and even Gert Smal. Even Gert might need help with some insights about new trends and tactics.

"We're privileged to be able to afford a scrum consultant over and above our full-time staff. It's nothing to be embarrassed about."

The end-game here is obvious.

"Who better to help judge who those candidates to develop at tigthead might be than Werner? He knows the game and can still go into the odd scrum at training and be hands-on. 

"He can help us show everyone that we don't need to just head-hunt players in that position. They could be here in our own system, we can turn them into top-class players and perhaps even ensure that we don't lose those guys again," said White.

The fruits of that labour will only be apparent later in the year, but the start of the Currie Cup has already thrown up some encouraging signs.

"It's interesting, the same guys who had all these issues against the Sharks last month demolished the Western Province scrum this week," said White.

"The sanctions that were given out to WP when they arguably repeated what we had tried to do against the Sharks weren't the same (in Wednesday's match). That's why getting a guy like Werner is important. We've seen the impact that he and Edgar has had. 

"Scrumming is very much a perception thing too. Just because you have a bad day at the office doesn't mean you can't scrum. The same goes for a good day, which doesn't mean you've got everything right yet.

"I'm not too worried about where we are. Hopefully, it's a turning point for us."

Kick-off is at 17:05.

Teams:

Bulls

15 David Kriel, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Cornal Hendricks (captain), 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Reinhardt Ludwig, 6 Arno Botha, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp

Substitutes: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Harold Vorster

Stormers

15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Salmaan Moerat (co-captain), 3 Sazi Sandi, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff (co-captain)

Substitutes: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Adre Smith, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Dan du Plessis, 23 Warrick Gelant


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