Jake White says Friday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship clash with a Wales-international laden Ospreys outfit will be a good measure of how far the Vodacom Bulls have developed under his stewardship. DYLAN JACK reports.
A win for the Bulls will keep their hopes alive of potentially securing a home URC quarter-final, pending the permutations of other fixtures over the weekend, while Ospreys will be gunning for the Welsh Shield which they are scrambling for together with domestic rivals Scarlets.
White has selected a strong side for the URC round-18 clash, with David Kriel called up to join fellow youngster Canan Moodie and star wing Madosh Tambwe in the back three.
However, the Bulls will be up against an Ospreys outfit featuring 11 players who have been called up to the Wales squad for the three-Test series against the Springboks in July. Among the starting lineup, are British & Irish Lions locks Adam Beard and Alun Wyn Jones and Wales centurion back George North.
“They have 11 out of the 33 guys that will be touring South Africa with Wales. We are not under any illusions that it will be an easy game,” White told reporters on Thursday. “It is easy to say that you need bonus points, but the reality is that we are going to have to find a way to play well tomorrow. That’s the most important thing.
Taking on Jones in the lineout for the Bulls will be 23-year-old Ruan Nortje, whose impressive form this year has led to a call-up to the Springbok alignment camps.
“It’s not just Ruan. If you look at that pack, both locks are British Lions. It will be a challenge for the whole pack of forwards,” White said. “A guy like Jac Morgan didn’t get picked for Wales and they say he is the form player in Wales. There has been an outcry about him not getting picked from the locals. It could quite easily have been 13 or 14 of those players playing for Wales in the middle of the year.
“Ruan has grown considerably since I’ve got to the Bulls. He was a very young player when I got here. We have seen how he has grown. He has got himself into the Springbok alignment camps. Now he gets another opportunity to play against one of the greatest locks Wales has ever had. I am looking forward to seeing how his growth has come on.
“As coaches, we want to put these players in those environments and see how they’ve grown. Not just for him, it will be nice to see Elrigh playing, he has also been in the alignment camp. There’s a lot of match-up. George North against Cornal Hendricks in midfield is another. It will be good to see where we are as a group.”
As if facing an experienced lineup weren’t a big enough hurdle for the Bulls, they are also up against it when it comes to their away record this season.
Out of the eight games they have played away from Pretoria in the URC, they have won just three of those: against Cardiff, Zebre and the Lions.
“We haven’t done well,” White addmitted. “I have been with teams that have had the best away records. I think the Brumbies went for the longest away record, most wins away from home; Montpellier, when I was there, had the most wins away from home. It’s not something you can plan for. It is something we are going to have to get right.
“Tomorrow is a great opportunity to see how good we are in terms of playing away from home. The last time we toured the UK, we didn’t have a successful tour, so it will be good to see how we have grown as a group and whether or not we can turn an away game into a win.
“It is an interesting game,” White added. “I think that with the points difference, it is one of those games that if we win it, we probably wouldn’t have done enough to get a home quarter-final. It is sort of like an all-or-nothing game. It is one of those where we could get four points and, just by the nature of the other games, we can end up coming sixth or seventh on points difference and therefore have to travel again.
“We have to give it everything, we’ve got to try and get a bonus point. If we lose the game, then we haven’t won away from home and we obviously don’t get much confidence from not winning an away game. It is a must-win game for both. I spoke to the Ospreys coach yesterday and they also know they have to win it if they want to win their conference and play in the European Cup next year.
“It will be a game that takes care of itself as it unfolds.”
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) May 19, 2022
Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images