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Ken Borland

Bulls dominate the battle of sibling rivals … but change has to come at Loftus 0

Posted on May 15, 2023 by Ken

Eighthman Elrigh Louw was prominent as the Bulls rebounded with a convincing victory over the tough Griquas team in Kimberley.

Given that many of the Griquas players have come through the junior ranks at Loftus Versfeld, last weekend’s Currie Cup clash against the Bulls in Kimberley had all the hallmarks of a sibling rivalry – the big brother from Pretoria trying to quell the upstart youngsters.

Except that the Bulls have been a meek facsimile of their former fearsome selves this season and the quarterfinal exit, via another heavy defeat at the hands of the Stormers, caused much soul-searching at Loftus Versfeld.

The Currie Cup is now their last chance to pull together and try and get something meaningful out of their troubled season. Which makes them dangerous, desperate adversaries, and Griquas had their hands full against a near URC-strength team, going down 40-20. That Bulls side, when on-song, was good enough to finish sixth in the URC and make the last 16 of the Champions Cup.

The fact that the Bulls churn out so many talented youngsters year-after-year, and have dominated recent age-group rugby in South Africa, has caused speculation that director of rugby and head coach Jake White should ditch the players that have misfired this year and embark on a youth policy.

White himself almost bristled at the suggestion, saying the inevitable change that was needed at Loftus was a tricky balancing act between utilising exciting new talent but also ensuring that an experienced core is there to complement them.

“There needs to be change, that’s inevitable, and we also need some fresh energy,” White said. “Some guys have fallen behind and some players are finishing their contracts anyway. Some have said they might want to move elsewhere in South Africa or overseas.

“We are still negotiating with SAREO [South African Rugby Employers’ Organisation] and SA Rugby as to how many contracts we can have. This year we have used nearly sixty players, but we are limited to 55 contracts.

“So it’s a work in progress, it’s very fluid. And you can’t give guys one-year deals because they need stability. There are spaces available in our squad, but then you also need the right players to complement the guys you bring in.

“I would love to keep everyone coming through our system. In the last three years we have had the strongest junior age-groups in the country. But we need 55 players to leave to put all of them into the senior squad and that’s not possible. Not every guy in the junior ranks at Loftus is going to make it in professional rugby. There are only 23 places in the senior team.

“Which is why probably 60% of the Griquas and Pumas teams have come through the Bulls junior system. And those two teams were the Currie Cup finalists last year, which shows the talent we produce.

“We don’t need more juniors in the team and it’s impossible to win anything big when two-thirds of your team are under 24-years-old. We’ve already gone through that at the Bulls.

“Just using players from the junior system is not the solution to the problem, we need to complement them with players from outside. We need to be proactive, not reactive; we need to look for good players with speed and skill and the ability to change the game whatever their position, and more coaches to make the Bulls stronger. As Director of Rugby, I’m very lucky that the Board, the CEO and our owners say we need to compete with the top sides in Europe,” White said.

While there will clearly be changes in playing personnel for the Bulls, White was bullish in terms of his own management, although he did admit that they probably should have planned differently for the Currie Cup. The 59-year-old is confident that with a productive off-season in terms of structural work, the Bulls will return to their efficient selves and meet the ambitious goals of his bosses and the fans.

“Things have been working, I don’t know why some people think I would walk away. We have not done as well as we could, but it has not been a failure of a season and it has not been all bad. No-one from South Africa was able to get through the playoffs of the Champions Cup and we finished sixth in the URC. If that’s a bad year, then we are in a very good position at the Bulls because things will change drastically next season.

“We could have structured the Currie Cup campaign differently, but we take the Currie Cup very seriously and that’s not going to change,” White said.

Sporting success is never an exact science otherwise everyone would have the same winning formula. But something about the mix at Loftus Versfeld, which produced such potent rugby in the last couple of years, is now off. Plus good old-fashioned bad luck and things beyond their control have gone against them.

With all his experience and rugby wisdom, it would be foolish to bet against White ensuring the Bulls make full use of their resources next season to return to a position of dominance in South African rugby.

Harmer’s return saluted by those for whom the main thing is winning 0

Posted on February 23, 2022 by Ken

If the main thing is winning then Proteas fans should be delighted to see Simon Harmer back in the Test squad for the tour to New Zealand. Paul Harris, South Africa’s leading spinner when they were last ranked No.1 in the longest format, is certainly very happy to see the Essex off-spinner back in the national team’s ranks.

The returns of Harmer and paceman Lutho Sipamla are the two changes to the squad that did such fine duty against India, with George Linde unavailable due to his wedding and Sisanda Magala giving way to his Central Gauteng Lions team-mate.

The 32-year-old Harmer has played five Tests, the last of which was against India in Nagpur in November 2015. The following year he signed a Kolpak deal with Essex and in the last five years has been the most prolific wicket-taker in first-class cricket anywhere in the world – with 443 wickets at an average of just 22.77. Playing for Northerns, he is the second-highest wicket-taker in the four-day competition behind Duanne Olivier (28), with 27 at 21.40.

“It’s amazing what Harmer has achieved and he deserves his recall,” Harris told The Citizen on Wednesday. “He’ll obviously be coming in with huge confidence because he has taken so many wickets.

“England would have selected him ages ago if they could have. But we might play two spinners and Simon balances it nicely – an offie joining a left-armer.

“He’ll be a great back-up. Keshav Maharaj is our main spinner, but to have Harmer pushing him, putting pressure on him, will be good.

“It’s a great selection and, as much as we enjoy criticising the selectors, we have to give them credit here. It’s a really good squad,” Harris said.

The Proteas leave for New Zealand next week and, due to Covid fears, the second Test has been moved from Wellington to Christchurch, where the first Test from February 17 will be played.

Hagley Oval was the venue where earlier this month the Black Caps snuffed out, via an innings victory, Bangladesh’s hopes of an historic series win in New Zealand following their shock victory at Mount Maunganui.

“We’ve seen lately that there have generally been good pitches there,” Harris said. “There will be a bit in it for the seamers, so it would have been nice to have Anrich Nortje fit.

“But sometimes they can be a bit slow and then the spinners come into it. So you just need to hang in there, hit the deck hard and there may be a bit of turn later. It should be a cracking series!” Harris added.

Proteas Test squad vs New Zealand – Dean Elgar (captain), Sarel Erwee, Aiden Markram, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma (vice-captain), Kyle Verreynne, Ryan Rickelton, Marco Jansen, Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Simon Harmer, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Olivier, Glenton Stuurman, Lutho Sipamla.

No dissension in the ranks when it comes to how sorely missed Goosen will be in the Currie Cup final 0

Posted on September 22, 2021 by Ken

There may be some dissension in the ranks when it comes to some of Johan Goosen’s career choices, but everyone would agree that he will be sorely missed by the Bulls in the Currie Cup final against the Sharks on Saturday following his withdrawal due to testing positive for Covid.

The Springbok flyhalf was in sublime form in the Bulls’ 48-31 win over Western Province in their semi-final last weekend, looking every bit the world-class flyhalf Jake White hoped he would be and drawing comparisons with Wallabies legend Stephen Larkham from the coach.

Bulls CEO Edgar Rathbone confirmed Goosen’s misfortune on Wednesday, but if there is a silver lining it is that no other member of the squad is affected as the franchise aim to become the first team to win back-to-back Currie Cup titles since Free State won twice and shared one with the Bulls between 2005 and 2007.

That’s because the Bulls squad were given Saturday and Sunday off after Friday night’s semifinal and Goosen was down at his Eastern Cape farm. His positive test came on Monday when he arrived back at Loftus Versfeld.

Chris Smith, who played off the bench and kicked a 79th-minute penalty to level the scores in last season’s final, will now be the starting flyhalf, with young FC du Plessis expected to be on the bench.

Having a marquee player ruled out of the major domestic final due to Covid is also unfortunate at a time when rugby is desperately trying to prove how responsible they are in fighting the pandemic, with an eye on getting spectators allowed back into their stadiums.

Government held a vaccination drive launch on Wednesday with the support of SA Rugby and other sports, with Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa saying the more people get vaccinated, the sooner they can go back to watching sport live. Deputy president David Mabuza suggested 40 million people would need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity.

Rathbone told The Citizen he is hopeful that rugby won’t have to wait so long.

“It’s very sad that for the second final in a row at Loftus Versfeld there won’t be any people in the stands. But we are still working on plans to get spectators back, we have submitted millions of documents on how it can be done. Even if it’s only vaccinated people that can attend, it is of the utmost importance that we get crowds back into our stadiums.

“It’s not in our hands, but I think spectators might be phased back in, starting with hospitality first because that’s the easiest to control,” Rathbone said.

Losing 50% of World Cup-winning second-row quartet would be sheer bad luck for Boks 0

Posted on July 05, 2021 by Ken

Losing 50% of their outstanding World Cup second row quartet would be sheer bad luck for the Springboks, especially with the British and Irish Lions having such brilliant lineout forwards as Alun-Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes in their ranks, but forwards coach Deon Davids is hopeful that RG Snyman and Lood de Jager will still be able to feature against the tourists.

While Franco Mostert and Eben Etzebeth are fit and a great combination, Snyman, apart from the bad burns he suffered in the Munster fire-pit incident, had the misfortune to suffer another knee injury last month just when his rehab from a rupture of his ACL ligament was nearing completion, while De Jager suffered a particularly nasty injury when he broke his tibia in December, also damaging his ankle and knee in the process.

“It’s an ongoing process with RG and Lood, they are busy with rehab, and hopefully they can join us in the next couple of weeks to come. All the overseas players will be here on Sunday and they will have a thorough assessment so we can see where they are exactly medically. We will know then if they will take part.

“Obviously the lineouts are going to be key against the Lions, but it doesn’t only end with the locks, the combination of the loose forwards needs to be added in there too. Wyn-Jones and Itoje are world-class, but Lawes is also a very good lineout athlete. It’s going to be an interesting battle because if we have all our locks available, they have proven their worth at the World Cup,” Davids said from Bloemfontein on Wednesday.

The Springbok forwards coach also confirmed that they were keen on having Duane Vermeulen, currently recovering from ankle surgery, in the camp even if just in an off-field capacity.

That Vermeulen is an inspirational presence can be seen by the Bulls pretty much turning into cows in his absence, and the man of the match in the 2019 World Cup final is certainly a talisman for the Springboks as well.

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