Jaco and Bulls thrive on the calmness Willie brings
The Hollywoodbets Sharks have their Springboks back but the Vodacom Bulls will feel they’ve also been significantly strengthened ahead of Saturday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship derby in Pretoria by a key international player of their own.
Willie le Roux, twice a World Cup winner for South Africa, made a strong debut for the Bulls in their rout of Connacht in round six, and Jaco van der Walt, who made his own debut for the Bulls just a week earlier, says he makes a significant difference to the team and the play of the players around him.
“Willie’s arrival has made a massive difference to us,” said Van der Walt, who was capped for Scotland during his stint with Edinburgh after he’d started his senior rugby career playing for the Emirates Lions.
“Willie is a very experienced player and on the weekend his chat with us was amazing. He made all the guys around him calm. He is very calm himself, especially with his decision-making. He will bring out the best in us and his presence makes a big difference to us both on the pitch and off it (in his mentorship role).”
BOKS MAKE BIG DIFFERENCE TO SHARKS
Van der Walt, who was the official man of the match in his first game at Loftus as a home team player, knows only too well though that the Boks who returned for the Sharks last weekend against Dragons will make a massive difference to Saturday’s opponents too.
“It is always nice to play in a South African derby and we know this will be a tough one for us as the Sharks did really well last weekend. We are going to have to put in a lot of good preparation for the challenge that awaits us,” he said.
“Their Boks do make a big difference to them, as do ours to us, and I thought the Sharks were unfortunate in the previous matches with their results. There were games they could have won. They are a good team with good individual players. They will come hard at us and we have seen they have a big commitment to running rugby so we are going to have to look out for that. The experienced players will make a difference to them both on and off the pitch.”
WORKING ON DEFENSIVE LAPSES
Coach Jake White was a little disappointed with the ease with which the Bulls gave tries away against Connacht, and with the Sharks including the likes of Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi and Aphelele Fassi out wide, plus the underrated Werner Kok, Van der Walt says that defence is something that is being given extra care ahead of Saturday.
“Actually, I thought the defence last weekend was okay but we can’t afford to concede points against South African teams who like to play running rugby, so we are going to have to step up our defence. The Shark have some great individual players so our defence is going to have to be really accurate.”
The 29-year-old was pleased with the way his first game in Bulls colours went but knows that hard work is required to get game time at the franchise as the Pretoria team have three good flyhalves to call on in the form of himself, Johan Goosen and Chris Smith.
“There is a lot of depth in our squad and that does make a difference as it means you have to work harder. The competition is good for you as it pushes you. Myself, Chris and Goose get on really well but we have healthy competition that can grow you as a player. The vibe at the Bulls is different, everyone gets on really well, and if you get on as a team you can usually see it on the pitch.”
WINNING HOME DERBIES IS A NON-NEGOTIABLE
Every team goes out to win every game it plays, but Van der Walt agreed Saturday’s derby will have an extra edge to it in terms of what the Bulls need to do.
“Every weekend is important but it is particularly important when you play SA teams and a team like the Sharks,” said Van der Walt.
“They are very competitive, and we know we will need to step up our game, so a win over them will give us extra confidence going forward. It is very important to cash in when we are playing in our conditions and that is why the home games are the ones you simply have to win. Having the crowd behind you helps and you need to capitalise on that. Altitude as well as weather wise it makes a big difference to be playing at Loftus.”