Jake White has some room to manoeuvre with regards to team selection. He has stated that the Sharks defeat won’t change his plan to rest Vermeulen, which is likely to see the Springbok No 8 sit out the Griquas and Lions games.
CAPE TOWN – Despite the Blue Bulls’ 32-29 defeat to the Sharks, Jake White probably woke up with a smile yesterday on his 57th birthday.
The former Springbok coach didn’t get an ideal present, with Morn– Steyn’s last-gasp penalty miss handing the hosts a victory they arguably deserved overall.
But the way in which White spoke afterwards, one can understand if he had been in a happy mood on his birthday.
The Bulls are still heading the Currie Cup standings with a five-point lead over the Durbanites, who have a game in hand, but the Pretoria team do have a handy positive points differential of 68.
In addition, the Bulls have played most of their toughest games already. They face Tafe Lager Griquas in Kimberley this Saturday, and then host the Lions on Boxing Day before enjoying a bye. They finish off their league programme against the Pumas in Mbombela on 8 January.
In contrast, the Sharks still have to take on the Lions and Cheetahs away, then Griquas in Durban, followed by Western Province at Newlands.
It could’ve been a very different situation for the Pretoria side, though. The Kings Park game on Saturday could have been salvaged if captain Duane Vermeulen had decided that the late penalty was kicked into touch instead of heaping the pressure on Steyn.
They had lost a few critical line-outs, but the risk would’ve been worth it to secure a home semi-final. Where was the ruthlessness?
But White insisted that he was “very happy” with where the Bulls are at, and that they still have their destiny in their own hands ahead of the Currie Cup final on 23 January as “that is when the trophy is handed out. As Naas Botha said, the Currie Cup is not won in December”.
So, White has some room to manoeuvre with regards to team selection. He has stated that the Sharks defeat won’t change his plan to rest Vermeulen, which is likely to see the Springbok No 8 sit out the Griquas and Lions games.
There is enough depth to cover the likes of Vermeulen and Marco van Staden, and White may have to think of introducing a new centre pair too, with Cornal Hendricks and Stedman Gans having started almost every match.
Jacques van Rooyen has toiled manfully, but came under real pressure from Thomas du Toit and received another yellow card after his red card against Province. Lizo Gqoboka is still out injured, so maybe the time has come to give Gerhard Steenekamp the No 1 jersey.
With Travis Ismaiel still injured, White should utilise a specialist wing such as Jade Stighling or Stravino Jacobs as Marnus Potgieter battled a bit with his positional play a few times on Saturday, including the match-winning try by Yaw Penxe.
White will roll the dice against Griquas and the Lions, while the Sharks also have a tough run-in – and it’s over the festive season, when teams are usually putting their feet up.
It’s shaping up to be a thrilling finish to the Currie Cup!