Vodacom Bulls boss Jake White believes South Africa’s involvement in the Vodacom URC will help lure World Cup-winning Springboks back home.
The director of rugby feels the fact the country’s four franchises are now competing in Europe will serve as a real selling point for recruiting big name Boks.
White has been in Wales this week, preparing for the Bulls’ URC clash with Cardiff Rugby at the Arms Park on Friday night, and he has a little tale to illustrate his point.
“I had an interview this week with a player who plays, not in Wales, but in the UK,” he revealed. “He came to see me about returning back to South Africa. One of the selling points is we are now playing in Europe. We are not playing Super Rugby.
“We are closer to home, we can feel what it’s like to be in the northern hemisphere, we understand northern hemisphere rugby. That’s a selling point for these players to want to come back to South Africa. Especially now that it’s post the Rugby World Cup. I understand players, they go out and make money.
“But with the new cycle of South African rugby, trying to pick a new Springboks side, maybe being at home and playing in front of your home crowd, being seen every week and being in the loop is going to be a positive thing and that will help the franchises.
“For those guys in the wilderness, playing at clubs abroad that people don’t really watch, maybe the way forward is to get them to come back to South Africa and play well in front of the supporters.”
White is particularly keen to see a return for the stars who lifted the Webb Ellis Cup out in France.
“We need to attract those World Cup-winning Springboks back to play in the franchises,” he said. “It’s wonderful they have done so well, but I would love to tap into that experience by bringing back guys like Jesse Kriel, Handre Pollard and Trevor Nyakane, just to mention guys who have played for the Bulls previously. There are other guys we would love to get back as well.
“If we could get that calibre of player back to our franchises, it would be so beneficial for our younger players – to play with some of the best Springbok players.”
One of the young Bulls players who is really making his mark and hitting the headlines is dynamic back-row forward Cameron Hanekom, amid the news he is eligible for Wales. “I didn’t know until one of the BBC commentators told me at training!” revealed White.
“He said ‘Did you know this kid is Welsh qualified?’ and the next day I read in the paper he’s got a grandmother who qualifies him for the Welsh team.
“I think that’s a sign of the times. I don’t think it’s going to be the last time we get a player in South Africa that’s qualified for another country. Obviously, he’s a great talent. He was voted the best player in a U20s tournament a couple of years back. He’s still only 21.
“He’s been a good find for the public, but we knew he was in our system and that it was always inevitable he would come through into our mix.”
As for the No 8’s Welsh link, White added: “There are some really good loose forwards coming through for Wales, if I look at Jac Morgan, Taine Plumtree. So I don’t think it’s a fait accompli that just because you qualify to play for Wales that you will necessarily get picked to play for Wales.
“It’s a great honour to play for your country and I can’t see that just because you qualify you therefore get an easier ride into playing international rugby.”
The Bulls arrived in Cardiff lying third in the URC table having recorded bonus point victories over the Scarlets and Zebre Parma, either side of a 26-19 defeat to Ulster in Belfast.
“I am feeling pretty positive. I am happy where we are,” said White. “There is a nice blend between senior pros and some of the youngsters, while we’ve made some quality signings.
“But you can’t take anything for granted in this league. It is so close and so competitive. I see the URC as a real positive. I’d like to win it! We got to the final in the first year and last season we got knocked out by the DHL Stormers who got to the final again.”
He added: “In the first year of the URC, I don’t think our fans understood what European rugby was like, but this is year three now. When we play our home games in the Champions Cup, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get 40-50,000 at those because of the whole groundswell of URC and playing in Europe. It’s really taken off.”
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