Bulls, Steyn defying expectations

Jake White says it’s exciting that the Vodacom Bulls are proving they can play in different ways and aren’t just reliant on a conservative, forward-dominated approach, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

When the Bulls squad underwent a restructuring under the leadership of White during the off-season, a number of new forwards were recruited to Pretoria.

It led to many assumptions that the Bulls were set to enforce a traditional style of play based around a powerful forward pack and prolific kicking game from the halfbacks.

Call it 10-man rugby, or so-called ‘Jake-ball’. Call it whatever you like, but the Bulls have kicked those assumptions into touch at the start of Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked.

White’s side have played a couple more games compared to a side like the free-flowing Cheetahs, but they are well ahead in the statistics when it comes to defenders beaten (86) and metres carried (1,516), while they have scored 15 tries in four matches.

Chatting to the media ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Lions, White admitted that even he had been a bit taken aback by the manner in which a new-look team had been able to find its stride on attack.

‘I have been surprised because it’s taken a relatively short space of time for them to gel, but I’m not surprised that the style is like that. I’ve coached in Australia, France and Japan, and seen different teams, situations and styles.

‘Part of the excitement I get now is that I’m not getting labelled as a conservative, Afrikaans kicking coach who just plays with a big pack of forwards. And hopefully people are seeing the same pictures we see from the coaches box.

‘It’s more difficult for teams to defend against us because if they don’t stop our forwards, then they’ll go through them, but if they put too much emphasis on our forwards then we have backs who can run around them and carve them up as well. I’ve coached in lots of places, and have been able to take the best of things that work in different countries.

‘We’ve got a massive group of talented players here, lots of junior talent, and we can play different styles. Sevens back and [traditional] Bulls forwards, it’s not a bad combination.’

GRAPHIC: Lions vs Bulls – Team sheets

Key to the Bulls’ success so far this season has also been the influence of veteran flyhalf general Morne Steyn, who has wound back the clock to produce some compelling performances.

‘He’s been fantastic for us,’ White commented. ‘I’ve said it many times, the pack of forwards are helping him, and [coaching consultant] Fourie du Preez is then working so well with our No 9s. We’re also seeing how Ivan van Zyl is blossoming playing behind that pack and by playing with a general like Morne next to him.

‘But Morne is playing some really good rugby. I’ve said it before, he was phenomenal at Stade Francais, and although he is getting on in years he’s also now old enough to know what works or doesn’t for him.

‘He’s helping the centres gel nicely as well, so as long as we can get the best out of him in the next few weeks that will be great because when he’s on song like he was last weekend, then everyone around him gets confidence.’

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Craig Lewis