'This is our test match' - White gears up for Bordeaux

rugby19 January 2024 12:45| © SuperSport
By:Brenden Nel
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Jake White © Gallo Images

Vodacom Bulls coach Jake White made abundantly clear the magnitude of the task facing his side when they host giant-killers Bordeaux Begles on Saturday at Loftus Verfeld, comparing the game to a test match.

White believes the big sides now come out with their killer instinct and Bordeaux are looking to join the big three of Leinster, Toulouse and defending champions La Rochelle in the title contenders club and are likely to pack their side with all their top players.

White knows that the Bulls haven’t lost to a European team at Loftus yet, but is aware that this is probably the biggest home test the team have faced in the past few years.

“It’s important. We want to win every time we play. We can’t talk about altitude and 3pm heat if you don’t use it in your favour. Every week we want to win. We played well this year, even against Lyon when we lost. I’d like to have the best players playing in this competition every single Saturday and I said it last week as well,” White said.

“This is our test match - this level - as a club - this is where the best clubs come out and play - Leinster, La Rochelle and Toulouse, that is when the big guns start rolling out. It is a big tournament and I want to make sure we do as well as we can.”

White will draw on the team’s performance in beating Saracens to fuel their fire for the game, and knows the Bulls can and should lift themselves on their home ground.

“One of the things I spoke to them about - Owen Farrell, Jamie George, Maro Itoje came and they were all internationals. It is no different. I suspect Bordeaux will bring their big guns. Six guys in their backs are in the French national side, Adam Coleman has played for Tonga, Kane Douglas played for Australia. Every other guy in their pack, if not played international rugby, has come close to international rugby.

“The tournament is where the big guns roll out. I’ve been lucky enough to coach Montpellier and you saw how good La Rochelle was last weekend. It’s home, 3pm in front of our crowd, and all to play for. There is no reason we won’t be ready or understand the magnitude of what we have to do.”

Asked what he wanted from his team, his wish was simple: “Just a win. If I could choose, just win. This is a tough competition and winning is at a premium. If Lyon wins that game, there is no guarantee we will get second in the group either, so that is the first priority - to play well enough to get a win.”

White has made some interesting selections to his side, including bringing back World Cup winner Willie le Roux, with Devon Williams shifting to left wing after his man-of-the-match performance last week against Bristol. David Kriel moves back to 12 with Stedman Gans his midfield partner while the halfbacks are unchanged.

Celimpilo Gumede moves to seven after another impressive performance and now forms part of a loose trio with another upstart, Cameron Hanekom, and captain Marcell Coetzee at six.

Jan-Hendrik Wessels gets the nod after his impressive performance against Bristol while Mornay Smith replaces the injured Wilco Louw.

White said Wessels got the nod because he had scrummed more with the two props in the past and he thought the reserve front row were a good combination together.

“Akker, Khutha and Simphiwe probably are a good combination and Jan-Hendrik, Gerhard Steenekamp and Mornay Smith have probably scrummed together more since I’ve been here at Loftus. It’s a combination of Jan-Hendrik playing well last week and the change we had to make.”

Vodacom Bulls: Willie le Roux, Sebastian de Klerk, David Kriel, Stedman Gans,Devon Williams,Johan Goosen, Embrose Papier,Cameron Hanekom, Celimpilo Gumede,Marcell Coetzee, Ruan Nortje, Rynhardt Ludwig, Mornay Smith, Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Gerhard Steenekamp.

Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Simphiwe Matanzima, Khutha Mchunu, JF van Heerde, Elrigh Louw, Keegan Johannes, Jaco van der Walt, Cornal Hendriks.