Russell and Jake: A Bulls partnership that was destined to be reunited


Jake White (Gallo Images)

Jake White (Gallo Images)

  • Jake White’s decision to bring Russell Winter aboard his Bulls coaching staff is no coincidence – they’ve known each other for 27 years.
  • His appointment makes eminent sense given that he shares the franchise’s Director of Rugby’s passion for the traditional virtues of the SA game.
  • Winter’s experience at junior level also means he knows Nollis Marais, a fellow new assistant coach, very well.

Jake White’s recruitment of Russell Winter as the Bulls’ new forwards guru isn’t merely down to the former Stormers assistant’s pedigree of having coached a full pack of Springboks at Newlands.

Instead, it’s the culmination of a professional relationship that started all the way back in 1993.

In his final year at school, Winter enrolled at Jeppe Boys High – that Lions factory that recently delivered the talents that are Tyrone Green, Wandisile Simelane and Hacjivah Dayimani – where he met Loftus’ World Cup-winning Director of Rugby.

“We just clicked from the outset,” Winter told Sport24.

“What made that year doubly special is that I didn’t only play for him in school colours. Jake was also the then Transvaal’s Craven Week coach (between 1992 and 1994), where I could also work with him. Even at that young age I realised that he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever encountered.”

Both men went their separate ways afterwards, with Winter becoming an accomplished, underrated loose foward for the Cats, Lions, Sharks and England’s Newcastle, while White’s trailblazing coaching career is well-known.

Yet the bond never wavered.

“When I returned from Newcastle in 2009, I was approached by Hans Coetzee (the legendary Monument coach who was briefly appointed the Lions’ Currie Cup head coach) to become involved with the senior team. In hindsight, that responsibility came a bit too early for me,” said Winter.

“I decided to initially focus on junior coaching just to find my feet a bit. Jake became immensely valuable. I consider him a mentor and he’s always been just a phone call away when I needed a chat or some advice. His insights have definitely played a major part in forming my coaching philosophy. I’m thrilled to be reunited with him.”

Asked what that coaching style broadly entails, it becomes even clearer why White appointed one of his protégés. 

The former Springbok coach has steadfastly embraced the virtues of South Africa’s powerful and precise approach to the game, something that appeals to Winter too.

“We should never be shy of touting the South African style of play. When I coach forwards, I always want them to play to their strengths and that’s a brutal, confrontational type of game. We’re just naturally attuned to it and it works so well,” said the 44-year-old.

“But my time at the Lions especially made me appreciate the value of keeping things fresh by also introducing an element of excitement. Simply put, I hope to introduce supporters to a hardened pack that can deliver special moments.”

Adding to the initial sense of cohesion in White’s coaching structure is Winter’s friendship with Nollis Marais, the Bulls’ Head of Junior Rugby and the senior squad’s breakdown specialist.  

“Nollis and I got to know each other very well during our stints in the junior ranks. I have a lot of respect for him,” he said.

“He’s a brilliant coach, a guy with a special eye for talent. He and the Bulls have implemented a great system here and I’m confident we’ll exploit it well because we’re like-minded in our thinking.” 

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