Walt Steenkamp. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
- Jake White has rubbished suggestions that the Bulls’ poor start in the URC is down to inferior conditioning.
- He noted that there were no complaints of that when they were winning titles in SA, but does point to mental fatigue perhaps setting in after a hectic period of fixtures.
- White also doesn’t believe the Bulls have fallen into the old habit of travelling poorly.
Jake White has shrugged off suggestions that his Bulls’ poor start to the United Rugby Championship is down to below-par conditioning.
Some quarters of the local rugby fraternity earlier this week raised such a possibility in light of the men from Loftus seemingly struggling to cope with the pace and intensity of their matches against Leinster, who beat them 31-3, and Connact, victors by 35-7 last weekend.
The Bulls’ director of rugby, however, reasonably argues that no-one made such complaints while his side was busy dominating the domestic scene.
“I’ve been close to coaching 40 years and still every time you lose, people say it’s because your players are unfit,” White said on Friday, ahead of Saturday’s meeting with the Cardiff Blues.
“That’s always the first thing that comes to their mind. When we were outplaying domestic opponents in second halves of matches and scoring 40 points on some occasions, finishing off strong, no-one mentioned anything about fitness.
“Our medical and conditioning staff have been fantastic. I have no doubts that it’s not our conditioning that’s the issue.”
But White is wary of fatigue setting in as South Africa’s currently un-synchronised playing calendar with their European counterparts takes its toll.
While teams like the Blues have had proper pre-seasons, the Bulls and co come off a full Rainbow Cup and Currie Cup campaign.
“I’m not even talking about physical fatigue, it’s more mental,” he said.
“It’s very important to understand how the schedule has gone. I did some sums the other day, in the last 52 weeks starting back 25 September last year with Superhero Saturday, we’ve played 40 fixtures and had two cancelled fixtures. Barring those games, we’ve been training Monday to Friday 42 of the 52 weeks.
“Mentally, it’s incredibly draining.”
White is by no means saying that his charges lack motivation, but it would be naive not to take such a factor into account.
“We love what we do. We’re not going to complain about being on a rugby field, particularly after the Covid lockdown. But to get yourself up for 40 weeks is really tough.
“To be fair, we’ve enjoyed the bulk of those weeks. We’ve won much more than we’ve lost. For us, it’s been easier for others perhaps. I wouldn’t buy the theory that we’re unfit.”
White also rejected the suggestion that his vintage has inherited their predecessors penchant for travelling poorly, a habit that bedevilled even the Super Rugby-winning teams of Heyneke Meyer and Frans Ludeke.
“Historically, playing away from home is difficult for any team. 85% of teams to date in this competition have won at home, illustrating that it’s really tough for any team to win away,” he said.
“I wouldn’t ringfence us. To get two Irish teams first up was always going to be difficult for us. The Irish system is very strong. We were going to be up against it and it’s not going to get easier.
“I don’t think we’ve fallen into a rut that we can’t tour. This is just a very different tour to what we’re used to. But it’s exciting and we need to get it right and then things will kick on.”
Kick-off is at 20:35.
15 Hallam Amos, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ben Thomas, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 James Ratti, 7 Will Boyde, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Matthew Screech, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Kirby Myhill, 1 Rhys Carre
Substitutes: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Rory Thornton, 20 Josh Turnbull, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Willis Halaholo, 23 Matthew Morgan
15 David Kriel, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Cornal Hendricks, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Marcell Coetzee (captain), 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Janko Swanepoel, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima
Substitutes: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Robert Hunt, 19 Walt Steenkamp, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Lionel Mapoe