Big calls for Jake White in Bulls’ URC, Champions Cup title charges

FILE - Bulls head coach Jake White. Photo: Xavier Leoty/AFP

FILE - Bulls head coach Jake White. Photo: Xavier Leoty/AFP

Published Mar 6, 2024


Bulls fans across Pretoria would have been rightly enjoying the fact that their team, at long last, beat the Stormers after seven losses in a row.

But while Jake White will be delighted to see his side sitting second on the United Rugby Championship log on 40 points, four behind Leinster, he will have some issues to fix off the field and some big calls to make on it over the next few weeks.

While 12 of the Bulls players are attending the Springbok alignment camp in Cape Town this week, they will all enjoy a few weeks off before the next Bulls game on March 23, when they take on the Dragons in Wales.

That is followed by the crunch URC showdown against Leinster in Dublin a week later, before they travel back to South Africa for their Champions Cup last-16 clash against Lyon at Loftus Versfeld.

If they win that encounter, they will have a Champions Cup quarter-final the next weekend, which is then followed by URC games against Munster and the Ospreys in Pretoria.

That’s six enormous weeks that will determine their Champions Cup and URC ambitions. He will have to box clever with his selection for the first three of those matches: against the Dragons and Leinster away, and Lyon at home. One would think that after a two-week break, a full-strength Bulls side will grab a bonus-point win over a weak Dragons.

Then a ‘second-string’ team could face Leinster, allowing the first-choice Bulls players to return home to rest and prepare for the Lyon clash.

But stranger things have happened. White said after the win over the Stormers that the Leinster clash could see the top two teams facing off against each other, and a victory there could given them a much-needed edge to clinch a home URC semi-final and possible final.

With the depth the Bulls have this season, White could mix and match the teams for the Leinster and Lyon games and emerge victorious. The problem with the Champions Cup is that there is no way that the Bulls can clinch a home semi-final or final, as those fixtures must take place in Europe.

Maybe the URC is the trophy the Bulls are chasing at full tilt this year. But before that, White has some time to sort out a few kinks in their armoury, starting with cutting out those irritating unforced errors that nearly derailed their Stormers triumph last weekend.

“For like 28 minutes, they (the Stormers) were nowhere,” the former Springbok coach said.

“I’m not knocking any player, but we miss touch and we defend for seven minutes, which leads to them going from 19-5 to 19-15. That is what’s been the Achilles heel for us in the last few seasons.”


IOL Sport