Springbok great Victor Matfield knows better than most that Jake White is a coach who demands a lot from his players, but South Africa’s most capped player says the fruits of White’s approach can be seen in the Bulls’ triumph in lifting the Super Rugby Unlocked trophy at the weekend.
Matfield ended with a record 127 Test caps to his name, but it was during White’s tenure as coach from 2004 to 2007 that the Polokwane-born player became a kingpin for the Springboks and the best lineout forward in the world, culminating in him being the player of the final in the 2007 World Cup win.
“Jake White has never been happy with average and you can see that he is demanding a lot from the Bulls players, but it’s getting the best from them and the standards are lifting at Loftus,” Matfield said.
“A lot of us former players thought that the Bulls needed change and then Jake came in and brought quite a bit of change. It’s a pity that there was no real Super Rugby this year because that’s the real test, but they did very well.”
While brute physical strength once again seems hip in South African rugby and the Bulls’ pack was certainly the most physical in the competition, Matfield said the team’s success went well beyond simple forward-based rugby.
When the ball did get to the backs, it pinged around in impressively incisive fashion.
“When the Bulls were physically up for it, like in the games against the Sharks and Stormers, then they were just ruthless,” Matfield said.
“They had a very strong tight five and their loose forwards were great at the breakdown. In fact, nobody in South Africa could compete with them at the breakdown.
“And then they had a No 9 (Ivan van Zyl) and No 10 (Morne Steyn) who controlled the game very well.
“I must admit before the season I was worried about their centre combination and I was very surprised by Cornal Hendricks at inside centre. He was outstanding, especially against the Stormers.
“David Kriel also did really well at fullback and the wings played well too.”