“This just reaffirms what I’ve been saying about having a team together for a long time and being able to prepare properly – then you have a chance to win,” was coach Jake White’s response to his makeshift Bulls side being hammered 44-14 by the Pumas in their Currie Cup match in Nelspruit on Sunday.
Given the thoroughly unusual week they had, it was always going to be an uphill task for the youthful Bulls outfit to beat a fired-up Pumas side. Having emerged from their Covid outbreak, the Bulls had to play the Lions in a crucial clash in midweek with a weakened team, but they managed to sneak a win over their Gauteng neighbours, thereby ensuring they would finish top of the log.
They then had to wait 48 hours before they could do Covid testing again, leaving precious little time before Sunday’s match with the Pumas. White was always going to wrap his first-choice players in cotton-wool before their semi-final against the Lions on January 23, but he would have liked more time to prepare the largely U21 side he threw into action at the Mbombela Stadium.
“It was always going to be tough having just one training session together with this team; a guy like replacement flank Divan Venter only trained with us for 20 minutes because Nizaam Carr pulled out on the Friday,” White said.
“We’ve brought much better teams to Nelspruit and struggled, and this was a very new squad. But it’s never nice losing and I did hope for a better performance.
“I was pleased with the 7-10 score in the second half, but it was not ideal to go 31-0 down after the first 25 minutes. But all credit to the Pumas, we wanted to get those early points but they did it to us instead. They’ve been in lockdown for a long time and made huge sacrifices, so it’s nice for them to get some reward. They should have won against some much better teams than what we brought here this time.”
White said the best thing to come out of the game was that here were no injuries and now his team have the better part of two weeks to prepare for the knockout stages. The halfback pairing of Morne Steyn and Ivan van Zyl were probably the only two players who started against the Pumas who are likely to feature in the semi-final, and they were pulled off the field at halftime.
“The most important thing is that we didn’t get any injuries, which is quite nice,” said White. “I was worried that we would lose one or two players, which is why Elrigh Louw and Johan Grobbelaar didn’t get on and Lizo Gqoboka only had limited time. I wanted to give Morne Steyn some game time and confidence, but two weeks out from a semi-final, you just don’t want the guys to get injured.
“I didn’t want to risk anyone and fortunately there were no injuries. I had still hoped we would be more competitive, like we were in the second half, but you’ve got to pay your school fees and a guy like Jan-Hendrik Wessels maybe lost just one game in his whole Grey College school career.
“But now we need to win our last two games, we’ve worked hard for a home semi-final and we have not lost at home yet.”