Ken Borland
Sports Journalist
3 minute read
24 Apr 2022
11:03 am

Feature: What the Bulls did to ensure all of SA’s pro rugby trophies reside at Loftus

Ken Borland

"I am as proud of the growth at club level as I am of the professional trophies."

Jake White, Willem Strauss and Edgar Rathbone with all five professional rugby trophies on offer in South Africa. Picture: Supplied

The Blue Bulls Rugby Union seem to be wining trophies on an almost monthly basis these days and, although that was the focus of a tweet proud president Willem Strauss sent out last week, he says he is equally proud of the growth in club rugby that has occurred since he was first elected in 2018.

A major reason for the growth is that the Bulls have actually provided opportunities for club players to graduate into the professional system, and their professional players are also integrated within the club structures.

A dozen have played Carlton League matches and the more senior figures are also allocated a club for which they are ambassadors.

The alignment of their professional and amateur structures has been complemented by the expansion of the Carlton League and the introduction of an U20 club competition. Some serious money has been allocated to club rugby.

It has proven that a healthy structure at amateur level will contribute to success at professional level, with the trophies for the Currie Cup, Super Rugby Unlocked, SA U21s, U20s and U19, as well as the Varsity Cup, currently residing in Pretoria. Tuks face an anxious wait as they look to hang on to the latter title when they take on Maties in the final at Coetzenburg on Monday.

“In order to make progress, you always need a very holistic approach and we have also made a point of looking after our clubs and schools,” Strauss told The Citizen in midweek.

“Our clubs showed in the Easter Rugby Festival last weekend that they are definitely the best in South Africa. I am as proud of the growth at club level as I am of the professional trophies.

“We have 23% more players at that level now compared to last year. And we are also making our clubs more community-based, they go and coach at the primary schools in their region.

“The growth of the game at club level is as important as at professional level and we want to continue that pipeline, giving us a broader base,” Strauss said.

When Strauss became president in 2018, the Bulls had not won a trophy since 2010 and their players were more like rentals than contracted employees as they left Loftus Versfeld in droves. There was also the scandal of then high performance manager Xander Janse van Rensburg’s fraud and theft from the union.

‘Right appointments’

“We had no trophies at all, not even a junior one, which was scary,” Strauss admitted. “It all started with a plan which everyone bought into. We had to separate professional and amateur rugby, but get the structures aligned.

“We had the right stakeholders in Johann Rupert and Patrice Motsepe and we made the right appointments in director of rugby Jake White and CEO Edgar Rathbone.

“We also had cash flow problems and I was very worried about being able to turn things around. The first three years were tough, but it was not just me who did it, I have a very good board and directors.

“Once we had laid the foundations then new deals started coming through. But all the teams have the same salary cap and spend about the same. The key was getting our structures right, having a high-performance programme and having a world-class CEO and coach,” Strauss said.

With those firm foundations in place, the Bulls can only attract more investment, especially if they manage to seal the deal in the United Rugby Championship and earn a place in the European Champions Cup.