The Jake White masterstroke that won the Currie Cup
REACTION: Many of the headlines focused on flank Arno Botha’s extra-time winner, but the foundation for the Bulls’ Currie Cup triumph was laid earlier in the season.
The Bulls took the ball through 19 phases before the replacement loose forward, Botha, barged over for the winner – ending a decade-long drought of the most prized domestic trophy with a 26-19 victory.
Bulls Director of Rugby said the role of his replacements – which were far more effective than those on the Sharks’ bench – could be found in the approach they followed all season.
“The one thing that worked in our favour is that we used our bench a lot this season,” White said in his post-match reaction.
He pinpointed the role of flyhalf Chris Smith, who slotted the winning penalty in the win over Western Province at Newlands earlier in the season.
Giving bench players adequate game time during the season is the reason why they could come into the pressure-cooker situation of extra-time in a Currie Cup Final.
“You look at teams like the Lions – Elton [Jantjies] played every minute, 80 minutes every game,” White said.
“You look at a guy like [Sharks flyhalf] Curwin [Bosch]. He played almost every minute. Not many flyhalves get on in that situation.
“If you look at him [Bosch], then look at the props and you look at the locks that have come on. We felt more comfortable as a group that we could use our bench and the bench has shown that they can actually win games [when] you need [them] at the back end of the game.
“They’ve been there as a group and I’m talking about coming off the bench – [players like] Chris Smith, Arno Botha, Jan Uys and all those guys who have had game time.
“I’m sure that they felt the pressure, but I just felt comfortable about the fact that we could put them on.”
He also spoke of the leadership role that Botha played when he came off the bench for the final quarter of regulation time – scoring a try to pull the Bulls back from being 10 points (9-19) down and draw level to send the game into extra time.
Then to score the winner in the 99th minute of the Loftus thriller.
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“[Starting captain] Duane [Vermeulen] played 100 minutes and for a guy who’s obviously getting on, we had to manage him from week to week.
“He was calm, just like Arno Botha – who came on as one of our captains, spoke nicely and obviously kept them calm.”
He reiterated the importance of having given Chris Smith plenty of game time during the season.
“Other teams generally pick their No.10s to play 80 minutes, 80 minutes, 80 minutes. The nice thing was he [Smith] kicked the winner at Newlands. I know he missed that penalty [in extra time], but I just felt that the time we’ve given our bench over the year it was always going to be a telling factor and – especially when it went into injury time and extra time.
“[It was] the composure of the bench players that came on. They did it because they’ve been on the field many time this season and I think they get comfortable. This was not the only game they’ve come back to win – they’ve come back and won other games as bench players.
“It’s definitely something that we’re very happy about. Our bench have had the ability to grow as a group throughout the season.”
* Picture credit: Johan Orton media