Jake White held a bittersweet media conference following the Bulls’ victory over the Pumas, praising Gio Aplon as a player and person but also hinting his career could be over.
The 38-year-old Aplon, who only recently returned to play after a long injury lay-off, went down again on Friday evening with an injury to the same rehabilitated knee. White was clearly devastated for Aplon.
“I gotta say I feel for him, it doesn’t look good. He just wanted to get back on the field so badly. He worked hard, showed dedication, he lived here and spent every day he could in the gym with the rehab staff. He really wanted to be part of the team again.
“It’s his same knee again. He did his ACL previously and, at his age, if he’s out for another couple of months the chances of him coming back again are slim. I don’t want to be the prophet of doom, but I’ve been around the changing room enough to know that sometimes it ends like that.
“You want to walk away holding a trophy above your head but sometimes you can’t write your script the way you want to.”
White also highlighted the calibre of Aplon both as a person and player. His presence will be sorely missed by a Bulls backline that still lacks experience.
“I want to stress that he [Gio] was always helping me out as a senior player. Our backline with David Kriel, Stravino Jacobs, Zak Burger, Keegan Johannes, Duffy [Dawid] Kellerman, Jay-Cee Nel and Marnus Potgieter was very young and I realised that I needed an older, wiser guy to come in. Gio knew the risks, but he wanted to be part of it.
“I don’t need to tell you this but he’s a fantastic human being, fantastic rugby player. He could have played 100 tests for South Africa.
“If it is over he wouldn’t have wanted it to end like that, but at least in his heart he knows he’s won enough trophies in his life and he’s been successful at the Bulls in the short time he’s been here.”
White also lamented the mounting injuries that his Bulls side has suffered, but said that it was inevitable given the intensity and relentlessness of the competition.
“You’ve got Sidney Tobias who comes in and he twisted his ankle, I’ve got Sintu Manjezi out at this stage and I want to get him back on the field, Travis Ismael hurt his shoulder and he hasn’t recovered as well as he would have liked, Diego Apollis I was going to use and he’s now had a finger operation.
“I knew it was going to happen, we’re playing so much rugby and it’s so competitive and it’s week after week after week. There are no easy fixtures in South Africa. The attrition rate and the physicality of this league is taking its toll.”
White’s men did enough to overcome a spirited Pumas side and the coach said he was happy with the performance especially given he expected his players to be fatigued.
“We are tired. I expected the boys to be flat. We played Benetton last week and we know we were below par. We’ve flown economy class around the world, so to come back home and get five points against a Pumas side that got five points last week … you’ve got to be happy.”
The Bulls will now look ahead to facing the Cheetahs next week in Bloemfontein while keeping one eye on their upcoming match against the British & Irish Lions.