When it really counted in the Super Rugby Unlocked competition, the Bulls side battled to get going and went down 19-17 to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday while also struggling against a motivated Griqua side at home the previous week.
CAPE TOWN – With a home win and an away loss after two matches, the Bulls could argue that they have made a fair start to their Super Rugby Unlocked campaign.
But in both games against Griquas and the Cheetahs, their performances were not up to scratch, especially for a team built by Jake White.
And with their enterprising display in the Super Fan Saturday warm-up against the Sharks, it seemed as if White had brought new coaching skills to the fore after many years spent abroad.
But when it really counted in the Super Rugby Unlocked competition, his Bulls side battled to get going, and went down 19-17 to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday.
Here are five problems White needs to fix ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld (7pm kick-off):
Find a new fullback
White said that Gio Aplon injured his knee as he changed direction before being tackled by Clayton Blommetjies – and the player himself thinks it’s the dreaded ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury.
Youngster David Kriel has impressed at left-wing over the last few weeks but is actually a fullback who moved there on Friday following Aplon’s injury. He has a lot of pace and a good kicking range and is likely to wear the No 15 jersey against the Sharks.
Sort out ill-discipline
Both White and captain Duane Vermeulen made reference to the kickable penalties conceded in Bloemfontein, which saw Cheetahs flyhalf Tian Schoeman slot four penalties to ultimately win the game for the hosts.
“I think we probably conceded too many penalties consecutively, and we let them get out of their half, and they basically got into our half by us making consecutive penalties,” White said.
Settle on the centre combination
Cornal Hendricks and Stedman Gans? Clinton Swart and Hendricks? These are the two combinations that White has used so far, but he may be missing a trick – Gans is the man who is able to make things happen with his wonderful feel for the game, which was nurtured with the Blitzboks.
Swart ‘did a job’ in taking on Frans Steyn on Friday, with his direct running and robust defence. But he may be more of a horses-for-courses selection.
Hendricks is a dynamic runner with ball-in-hand, but is not really a playmaker and needs to be put into holes, and that is where Gans can come in.
Reignite fire in the pack
Springbok prop Lizo Gqoboka is out with a calf injury, and may not be back until the end of the Super Rugby Unlocked tournament, while Simphiwe Matanzima’s Achilles tendon tear will keep him sidelined for another six months.
And while Jacques van Rooyen is solid in the scrums, he just doesn’t bring the same abrasiveness that Gqoboka does in the tight loose.
Maybe the time has come to introduce youngster Jan-Hendrik Wessels (19), a Grey College star who White has already compared to the legendary Os du Randt – and he stands at 1.93m and weighs 120kg.
Ruan Nortjé has a high work-rate as a No 5 lock, but at 22, has yet to fill out physically. White is awaiting Walt Steenkamp’s arrival from the Cheetahs on November 1, but in the meantime, another Cheetahs recruit in Sintu Manjezi and former WP second-rower Jan Uys should be considered.
Stick with one scrumhalf
Embrose Papier was typically busy on Friday night, and the way he stood up to Steyn in a tussle showed that he is not someone who will take a backward step and he possesses the X-factor that makes him a better option than Ivan van Zyl.