United Rugby Championship: Bulls boss Jake White braced for rugby’s ‘Merseyside derby’

David Skippers
Bulls boss Jake White.

Bulls boss Jake White.

Bulls director of rugby Jake White is preparing for the United Rugby Championship version of football’s ‘Merseyside derby’ when his team take on the Lions in Pretoria on Saturday.

There is a fierce rivalry between the Bulls and the Johannesburg-based side, who are 60 kilometres apart and separated by the Jukskei River.

With them also playing in similar colours to that of English football clubs Everton and Liverpool, it’s understandable that White would make such a comparison.

A massive derby

“The proximity of the teams plays a big part in it,” he said of the red-versus-blue rivalry. “It’s probably a bit like the English Premier League’s Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool. It’s a massive derby.”

White is of course no stranger to Johannesburg as he was born and raised there and spent a large part of his formative years as a coach in the city at high schools Parktown and Jeppe.

He did well there and progressed to coaching junior teams at Transvaal (now the Emirates Lions) before doing work for the Springboks as a video analyst ahead of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

“Obviously, people like to believe they have the biggest derby, but I suppose the reason there’s more history to the Jukskei derby is because Northern Transvaal [now Vodacom Bulls] was a breakaway union from Transvaal,” he said.

That split took place in 1938 when clubs that were originally considered to be in Transvaal’s jurisdiction broke away to establish the Northern Transvaal Rugby Union.

Legendary Springbok scrum-half and administrator Danie Craven was amongst the first players to play for them.

And although Craven never moved from Northern Transvaal to Transvaal, there are many players who did.

“There are a lot of players who have moved back and forth between the unions over the years,” said White. “Guys like Uli Schmidt, Hannes Strydom, Rudolf Straeuli, Johan Roux, Gavin Johnson, Chris and Charles Rossouw.

“Johan Ackermann was a Blue Bull who went to Transvaal and Jannie Breedt is another one – he captained Transvaal in the Currie Cup final after starting at Northern Transvaal.”

Legendary Springbok wing Bryan Habana swapped Johannesburg for Pretoria in 2005, while flanker Cyle Brink and centres Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe are current members in the Bulls squad who used to ply their trade at the Lions.

Saturday’s highly anticipated derby will be important for both sides as the Bulls look to bounce back after their defeat to the Stormers on February, while the Lions got their campaign back on track with an impressive victory over Glasgow Warriors last weekend.

The Bulls’ Springbok back-row Marco van Staden is preparing himself for a tough challenge from the Lions.

Lions bring lots of energy

“The Lions will come at us with a lot of energy this weekend. They’ll come out firing, play with a high tempo and will look to surprise us,” said the flanker.

“We’re both under a bit of pressure, for different reasons… they’ve had a few losses recently and we need wins and good performances with the playoffs coming up.

“It’s always a good competition when two South African teams clash and this weekend will be no different.”

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