‘A very South African thing to do’ – Courtney Lawes rejects Jake White claims after Bulls’ ‘exaggerated’ travel issues

Colin Newboult
Courtney Lawes in action for Northampton Saints during 2024 Champions Cup clash with the Bulls.

Courtney Lawes in action for Northampton Saints during 2024 Champions Cup clash with the Bulls.

Legendary Northampton Saints forward Courtney Lawes believes that the Bulls “exaggerated” their travel issues ahead of the Champions Cup quarter-final.

The South African outfit were criticised after sending a weakened team to England for their clash with the Saints last weekend.

They kept 11 Springboks at home, with Bulls boss Jake White making mass changes for the clash. Unsurprisingly, the visitors were overwhelmed by the Premiership leaders, who claimed a dominant 59-22 triumph at Franklin’s Gardens to move into the last-four.

White’s defence

White defended his position both pre and post-match, insisting that it was the strongest side he could field given the knocks they had taken and the tight turnaround due to the travel.

That latter issue was a particular bone of contention for the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning coach, who lashed out at SA Rugby for their apparent failure to not plan ahead.

He claimed that the governing body did not do enough to prepare for the possibility of the Bulls reaching the last-eight and having to play away from home.

Eventually, flights were sorted and the Pretoria-based outfit made their way to Northampton, but it was not exactly ideal preparation.

However, Lawes felt that the situation was overblown in an attempt to put the pressure on the Saints, as well as lulling the English outfit into a false sense of security.

“My take was it’s a very South African thing to do that whole carnival around it, putting it out in the press about the eight different flights, this and that,” he told The Rugby Pod.

“I guarantee you that it wasn’t eight different flights and the players all probably got there and all very much the same time and maybe the staff got there at a bit of a different time.

“But I guarantee you that a lot of things there were at least exaggerated, to be honest, and it was a great way of them taking the pressure off themselves and essentially putting it all on us.

“Disrupting us, getting us thinking different things and not quite on the ball and that’s what I was pretty wary of, to be honest. I was pretty disappointed that they didn’t put their best team out.”

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Dominant second half and Lawes’ display

After taking a slender lead into the break, where some poor errors kept the Bulls in the game, Northampton dominated the second period and came away with a dominant win.

That secured their passage into the semi-finals where they will take on Leinster at Croke Park in May.

Lawes was a key part of the Saints’ triumph in the last-eight, once again producing an excellent performance, and his presence will also be vital in Dublin.

However, the flanker will hope that he doesn’t suffer a similar issue to the one he sustained ahead of the Bulls clash which threatened the 35-year-old’s involvement.

“Then, at about one o’clock, my back went into spasm, like just randomly,” Lawes added.

“So I was toast, mate; I was like flipping heck! I don’t even know I am going to be able to play, so at that point, I was thinking, ‘Maybe it’s a good thing they aren’t sending their best team’.”

READ MORE: Ian Foster’s dig at the Springboks for ‘deliberate’ tactics during ‘unacceptable’ World Cup final