URC SEMIS: Jake faces his toughest challenge since arriving at Loftus Versfeld

rugby10 June 2024 08:30
By:Brenden Nel
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Jake White © Gallo Images

Vodacom Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White faces one of the toughest tests of his long career - and possibly his toughest since arriving at Loftus Versfeld - as he contemplates taking on the toughest side in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship without two of his World Cup winning superstars.

Anyone watching the Bulls performance against Benetton would have picked up the dip in the team’s form when Arendse left the field after a head clash with Malakai Fekitoa. Walking off, you could almost see the shoulders drop as the team’s most potent attacking weapon was gone early in the game.

The fractured cheekbone that Arendse suffered, and which was operated on, on Sunday, will keep him out of the rest of the URC campaign, as Moodie’s fractured index finger does the same.

And just when the Bulls were hoping to go into Saturday’s epic semifinal against Leinster with a fully fit squad, White now has to contemplate doing it without two of his biggest attacking weapons.

The danger that Leinster pose is not insignificant. The team - as White continually points out - is basically an international team of test stars that have more test caps than the Bulls have URC caps. And their desperation to claim silverware after failing in the Investec Champions Cup and missing out for the last two seasons is something that makes them incredibly dangerous opposition.


Add to that the psychological factor that the Bulls have lost Arendse - who scored after 25 seconds and added a second try in the first half to underline his value before leaving the field - and there are a number of dangers for the Bulls to overcome.

Often a player like Arendse can lift his teammates with his play and has been an elixir for the team, especially at Loftus with some of his incredible tries and attacking runs. To be without him means the Bulls will probably need to find other ways of scoring tries and unlocking opposition defence.

But that is the reality for White, who is no stranger to having to overcome adversity with team selections.

Sergeal Petersen is the obvious player to come in for Arendse, having replaced him during the game, especially with Devon Williams injured. White can also look to David Kriel, who has previously played wing as well but that would mean a shift in the midfield that has worked so well during the URC.

White acknowledged the fact that Arendse’s injury had a profound effect on the side during the game, admitting that it would place extra pressure on him to get the selection precisely right against Leinster.


Asked how he combats the psychological loss of Arendse on the team, and how he picks them up this week to believe they can do what many think may be impossible, White said he would have to be spot on in his selections and preparation this week.

“The one thing you do is you praise the guy who came on so unexpectedly early in the game. I don’t think Sergeal in his wildest dreams thought he would play that much rugby against this opposition,” White said.

“But that is the art of coaching. What do I say, what do I do for them all to understand that every player is fortunate to be involved in this game. Sergeal has won the URC, he is the only guy in the changeroom that has won it. To have him there and to have won it.

“I don’t think it will be too hard to explain to him that he has another chance. Some sports people never get that chance. A guy like Jonah Lomu - probably the best player that has ever lived - never won the World Cup. These guys get to play to try and win another tournament.

“There are lots of rugby players who have played and didn’t win anything. To have them this week in another semifinal in another knockout game, I won’t have to say too much. I’ll have to get the selections right, the combinations right and the bench right for us to use the skill and depth that we have created. Those are things I’m going to have to get right.”


White said Benetton had tested them ahead of the semifinal, and while it was a massive loss to lose the two wingers, the next in line needed to step up and take their place.

“Who wants to lose Canan and Kurt-Lee, especially when Willie knows them like the back of his hand. But, I’ve said it before, we need to have depth and we need to trust the other players. We can’t just rely on the same 15 on the field all the time.

“That’s one more thing I’m happy about. We put guys like Rynhardt Ludwig, who is a young guy, on. The front row is young and the way they finished the game with a relatively inexperienced group of players was superb.

“Sergeal (Petersen) hasn’t played for a while and the way he played, to make the Fijian winger and Malakai Fekitoa you have to be at the top of your game. It would also be wrong for me not to say they are a good team. Let’s not underestimate them. That is an Italian squad with probably 25 Italian players in that squad. They’ve played the All Blacks, they’ve played test rugby. They haven’t played mickey mouse test matches.”


The return of one World Cup winner in Marco van Staden should boost the Bulls, while regular captain Marcell Coetzee is also set to be back to offset the losses.

But even so, the Bulls coach knows he may have to be brave going into the semifinal, in order to overcome the significant challenge that Leinster pose.

“I’m hoping Marcell is back next week and Marco is back next week and that gives you two more really senior players. David Kriel has played wing, he has been good under the high ball. There are other centres we can pick. Some guys played in a friendly against Western Province and played really well,” he explained.

“Sometimes we might have to think out of the box in terms of what we want to get out of the game. I’m going to watch the Leinster game again and I’ll get a good feeling for what the call will be. Sometimes you have to be brave, maybe we may think out of the box. And then we will have to think of what the best way is.”

The Bulls will name their side for the clash on Friday.