Tue, 24 Nov 2020

Given what he did in 2007 by masterminding a Springbok World Cup win, Jake White is a coach that has commanded South African attention wherever he has gone.

It was the case when he took over Super Rugby rivals the Brumbies in 2012, when he joined the Sharks in 2013/14 and even when he ventured into Europe with a four-year stint at French giants Montpellier.

White's resume speaks for itself.

He is a coach who commands respect given his achievements and well-documented tactical acumen, so it was no wonder that his return to South Africa in taking over the reins at the Bulls this year was met with excitement and anticipation.

The Bulls, South Africa's pride and joy from 2007-2010, have not lived up to those lofty heights since.

There have been just three Super Rugby playoff appearances since for the once-mighty Bulls, who have undergone metamorphosis after metamorphosis in an attempt to both evolve and to succeed once more.

John Mitchell, Nollis Marais and Pote Human all tried before White's arrival.

The coronavirus pandemic in 2020, as it did all over the world, left South African rugby without a platform for months and White's new venture with the Pretoria-based franchise was put on hold.

Now, with Super Rugby Unlocked in full swing, it is all systems go.

White was lauded for the business he did over the lockdown with a number of shrewd signings - rich in both experience and potential - putting pen to paper at Loftus.

In three competitive matches since, the Bulls have battled to victory over Griquas (30-23), have been humbled in defeat by the Cheetahs (19-17) and then, this past Saturday, they delivered their finest performance of the White era so far by overpowering the Sharks on their way to a 41-14 win at Loftus.

This Saturday, they will host a Stormers team that boasts two wins from two despite coming nowhere near hitting its straps yet.

It is a tantalising fixture and one rich in 'North v South' derby history.

The Stormers have been poor and coach John Dobson has admitted as much.

A 23-17 win over the Lions was followed by a Houdini-like escape against the Pumas in Nelspruit this past weekend, where the more pedigreed Capetonians had to score three tries in the last 10 minutes to secure a come-from-behind 42-37 victory.

On Monday, Dobson addressed media in a video press conference and it didn't take long before he was asked to comment on what White was doing at the Bulls.

White took over from Human, who had started the 2020 Super Rugby season in charge of the Bulls, and Dobson was careful not to "malign" the efforts of Human, who he described as one of the "nice guys" in rugby.

But Dobson also spoke to a new-found directness that the Bulls were employing under White, acknowledging that they were a stronger outfit than they were pre-lockdown.

"They're playing more direct rugby than they played under [former coach] John Mitchell and probably under Pote," Dobson said.

"They've got a good pack and they're defensively well organised, so I think they are stronger. I think they are stronger than they were pre-lockdown, so that's a credit to him [White]."

A coach who has a reputation of playing forward-driven, kick-heavy rugby, White is at a union where those attributes are considered traditional strengths.

And, this past weekend, it was that physical dominance that went a long way towards getting the job done against a Sharks outfit that had been the best in the country during Super Rugby 2020 before its suspension in March.

"What we saw on Saturday with the Sharks was definitely the DNA of that region," Dobson said.

"It's hard to change the DNA of any rugby region. That fitted their DNA: direct, territory, physical. It was a noticeable change from the Griquas game," Dobson added.

"There is no doubt that rugby is about momentum.

"We haven't got it at the moment in the way we're playing, and they have got it, so there is the hype. Success breeds success. He deserves credit for turning them around."

Kick-off on Saturday is at 19:00.

Source: News24

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