White defends rookie Bulls prop

Vodacom Bulls coach Jake White has defended his decision to field youngster Jan-Hendrik Wessels at tighthead prop in their heavy loss to the Pumas this past Sunday.

White raised eyebrows when he named 19-year-old Wessels at tighthead despite playing most of his youth rugby at loosehead prop.

While Wessels’ 120kg frame would theoretically make him ideal for a tighthead, his lack of experience in the position was exposed in Nelspruit as he was given a tough time in the scrum by opposite number Morgan Naude as the Pumas went on to claim a 44-14 bonus-point victory.

Speaking post-match, the Bulls head coach and director of rugby said the experience could actually serve to strength Wessels’ mental resolve.

‘I will freely admit that I had hoped Jan-Hendrik would perform better than he did,’ White explained. ‘However, he earned his stripes in this match.

‘He is a kid from Grey College, so I would venture to say that he hasn’t tasted many defeats in his life before. It was a difficult day for him, but you have to earn your stripes.

‘There is no better place to do that than at Mbombela Stadium, against an accomplished side like the Pumas,’ White added.

The Bulls did have a far more experienced tighthead in 30-year-old Marcel van der Merwe on the bench, but the Springbok has struggled to find his rhythm in the scrums since returning to Pretoria from French club Toulon.

‘It is a difficult dynamic with him at the moment,’ White said on Van der Merwe’s form. ‘He has had to adapt to quite a few combinations to play in. He’s not the only guy that [did not play to his best ability].

The Bulls will next be in action in their Currie Cup semi-final against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, 23 January.

Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images