‘We have to pay our school fees!’ – Jake White responds to Champions Cup drumming

James While
Jake White Bulls director of rugby URC 2024 - PA.jpg

Bulls director of rugby Jake White.

After the Bulls’ heavy 59-22 defeat at Franklin’s Gardens, Planet Rugby’s James While caught up with their director of rugby Jake White as he tried his best to put a positive spin on a disappointing quarter-final performance.

With the Bulls going in at half-time only six points down at 28-22, the match seemed in the balance until Saints struck back early in the second half.

“Look, I wasn’t happy with the way we played in that first period, but it was nice to be in the game when the half-time whistle went, especially because we were 28-10 down at one stage and it looked like it could run away from us,” White commented.

“The message was, let’s not let them start well after half-time and let’s not do what we did against Leinster. It was really disappointing that we then gave them two quick tries after the break and we just showed again, some real naivety there in terms of coming out hot for the second period.

“In terms of understanding, our captain was very clear at half-time about making sure the next 10 minutes are vital so it was really frustrating that Northampton basically scored from the kick-off – they took a lineout and then they ran a great play – and once they scored it was catch-up time and you’ve seen in the Premiership it’s really difficult to play catch-up rugby against Northampton with all their firepower.”

Nine-try Northampton Saints hammer depleted Bulls to set up Champions Cup semi-final with Leinster

Young stars

With Cameron Hanekom and Sebastian de Klerk putting in high-quality personal performances, White was pleased with some aspects of the learning of his team and was quick to point out that this was about allowing his players to grow and gain vital experience.

“Well, the interesting thing is Hanekom is 21, I think Seb is 24 and the lock we played at five, JF van Heerden, is only 19. It’s just the nature of what we have in terms of our young players. A lot of Springbok players are playing abroad, Japan, France, England, a lot of our seasoned provincial pro players are playing abroad as well,” he added.

“I said to Phil Dowson in the changing room just now, we’ve no right to come here and just expect to win a game; as a team, you got to pay your school fees, you know! If I use the example of Racing 92, last two finals, they’ve always been there or thereabouts. They have been an incredible club – great budget, and yet they can’t get over the line. So just shows you that you’re going have to put a lot of yards in and you’re going have to put a lot of time and effort in if you want to compete on this level.

Loving the competition

“I mean, to be fair this is an incredible competition; Leinster are a world-class team and didn’t win last year or the year before either. You heard Courtney Laws say to us ‘Which one do you want to win the Premiership or the Champions Cup?’ and his response shows you how valued this tournament is.

“I’ve got to stress, because I think people are reading it completely wrong that I’m not whinging about being here – in fact I’m loving this competition. I’m loving the fact that we get exposed to this and I’m loving that these players can learn what they learned tonight. It is so close to Test rugby. I mean maybe the style varies a little bit – less conservative and pragmatic compared to Test rugby but the intensity is there and is the fight to win.

“The one thing I really I think our learnings for us as a group was not only that they scored 59 points but that they didn’t even let us get a try at the end when were going through like 10-15 phases. It was almost like they sort of put their foot down defensively and that just shows you if you want to become a great team, you’re going to have to have an all-around game.

“So I want to be clear that we want to be here in this competition. We want to win and be that powerful side that can run out every weekend and be competitive, but you need to serve your time. It’s the second year we’ve been playing in this competition; for some guys, it’s the first time ever they flew business class. For others, it’s first time they’ve ever come overseas, so when you put that in perspective, it demonstrates we still have a way to go.

“In terms of the changes, I also want to address this. As a coach, we are saying to players you’re going to get opportunities. Cameron Hanekom the number eight played outstandingly well, but that was his first game back in about seven or eight weeks. The left wing Stravino Jacobs – that was his first time back in about six months from an injury. Now again, you know if I leave it another week, people say wow, why, you know he hasn’t played for so long. Why are you leaving that for so long? And the circumstances are very  – you have to develop these players.

“And one of the things that’s difficult about being a coach is I’m simply not going to tell you who is injured when we’ve a big game the next week, The reality is it’s a competitive industry I’m in and as soon as I tell you, you got 12 injuries and five might not play next week, the opposition see it. No one does that. You know, I can’t go on Google or the Northampton website and find out how many guys got injured last week, can I? So the reality is, I can only control what I can control.

Want South Africans to return

“My wishes are to get all the guys that play abroad to come back and play in this competition for the South African franchises. I think Tyrone Green today was man of the match in the Harlequins game and he’s a South African guy and there’s loads of others. I imagine if we could just bring those guys back to the franchises? I would like to run out here with RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Liebenberg who plays for Leicester – the list goes on.

“You have to understand we don’t have the luxury of signing Kiwis, Fijians, and Tongans like the European market have. We don’t have that for a lot of reasons. One reason is visas, the other is the money that we can pay players in rands as opposed to what they get offshore. So it’s different – we got to compare apples with apples, not apples with pears.

“I think it’ll take time but we’re getting closer. This is what I meant about paying our school fees – and every time we do that, we take one step closer to where I think we can get.”

READ MORE: Northampton v Bulls: Five takeaways as ‘absolutely immense’ Saints send ‘depleted’ visitors packing