Jake White, the director of rugby, believes that his current team consists of too many young players and is seeking to increase the average age of the squad.
The Pretoria team has attracted a number of stalwarts, including captain Marcell Coetzee, Bismarck du Plessis, Harold Vorster, Lionel Mapoe, and Johan Goosen, as well as a number of less experienced players, including Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Ruan Nortje, Janko Swanepoel, Elrigt Louw, and David Kriel.
Comparatively, the Sharks were able to include nine established internationals in their starting lineup on Thursday for Saturday’s match against Ulster in Durban, including Springbok stars such as captain Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth, and Makazole Mapimpi.
After naming a team that includes Swanepoel, Francois Klopper, Ross Nortje, and Jesse Kriel for Friday’s match against Benetton (6:30pm kickoff), who have a number of Italian Test players and seasoned characters such as former Stormers scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage, White reiterated the difficulties of touring for his squad.
White responded to a question about keeping an eye on the Bulls Under-21 team in their national final against the Lions on Friday by saying, “The problem I have is that the better they do, the less it helps me, because I’ve got Ruan Nortje (23), Reinhard Ludwig (21), Jan-Hendrik Wessels (21), Elrigh Louw (22), David Kriel (22), and Bernard van der Linde (22) – the list goes on and on.”
“I cannot accept an increasing number of juniors each year. I am emphasizing to the board and the CEO that we must increase the average age of our group.
“Most of the front-rowers on those teams last week were over 30.” Their locks are 33, and the captain has 87 Test caps at age 33. WJ Steenkamp made his debut in the URC.
There are a limited number of seats on the senior team. I believe that our team is definitely overwhelmed with juniors; we need to get some senior players from abroad; that is our target market at this time.”
Earlier this week, the Bulls were linked to Bok prop Wilco Louw, who has previously played for them and the Stormers and is currently at Harlequins in England.
White will also hope that injured players such as Goosen, Cyle Brink, and Jacques du Plessis recover quickly and return to the field.
The Bulls head coach reiterated that it will take time for his players to adjust to winning on the road.
“You (the media) are the ones who make us a less-than-stellar touring team because you constantly write about it! We don’t discuss it… We do not claim to be a poor touring team. We won as many away games as any other South African side last season. No one has defeated Munster away, and no one has defeated Glasgow away, the former Bok coach stated.
“We have endured arduous tours. We played four games against the greatest teams last season, and nearly all of them finished in the top eight. This year we played Glasgow and Munster, and who knows, Benetton may even finish in the top eight.
“We have defeated SA A on the road in Cape Town. We have defeated Province in Cape Town more than anyone else. We will win away games once we improve, gain a deeper understanding of the competition and other teams, and strengthen our roster.
“I am not diminishing the current team, but I am confident that we will be able to win. We engage in the same activities as everyone else when we are away from home.
“Nineteen of this team will play for Italy against South Africa, Australia, and Samoa during the next month. This is the type of experience they will get. And I am confident that when they return to URC, they will utilize this experience to improve.
“That is the only thing that we lack. You people asked me during the entire press conference about Goosen, who is the only Springbok who can play Test rugby the next week after being out for 11 months.
“When discussing the Sharks and Stormers, fifteen men are involved. Without detracting from what I have, it is what we have. The coaches and I are tasked with making these athletes better.
“Last week, Ireland selected 14 players from Munster for the fall internationals, and I’m sure Glasgow is well-represented in the Scottish team – unlike us.
“It is not anyone’s fault; we work with what we have. But I can assure you that during the next three to four years, people will inquire about 10, 11, 12, and 13 Bulls guys who will be playing international rugby.
“And then perhaps the questions won’t be about a single player who has just returned from injury. And this is a component of where we’re heading and where we’re trying to go.
“Until then, we must continue to study. “We must take what we learned from our last match, store it in our memory, and perform better (Friday) night (against Benetton).”