CAPE TOWN – Bulls coach Jake White is encouraging his players to push for Springbok spots, and that will continue in Saturday’s Rainbow Cup SA clash against the Lions at Ellis Park (3.30pm kickoff).
Often franchise or provincial coaches shy away from such a scenario, as it is regarded by many as a distraction to the goals of their teams.
But with the British and Irish Lions series coming up soon, it could actually have the opposite effect on the Bulls. Having dominated the local rugby scene since last season, the players could have had difficulty in staying motivated throughout yet another tournament of South African derbies.
Now though, there are two carrots available – the Bok squad, and a possible Rainbow Cup final against the European winners on June 19.
A player who may be at the top of the list of those wanting to prove a point is Bulls blindside flank Elrigh Louw, who has been outstanding for the Pretoria side, but has not been part of the Bok alignment camps over the last past few months.
The all-action 21-year-old loose forward was again at it in last week’s 43-9 victory over the Sharks, where he had to replace the injured Arno Botha in the first half. Louw was everywhere as he defended strongly, put in some tackle-busting runs and provided a hard, physical edge to the pack.
He could easily have been chosen as the Man of the Match – flyhalf Morné Steyn received the award for a stellar display – and now he has another opportunity to impress Bok coach Jacques Nienaber when he comes up against robust Lions No 7 Vincent Tshituka at Ellis Park on Saturday.
“One of the things, having coached South Africa, I am big here with my players about wanting to produce Springboks. I want Cornal Hendricks to play for South Africa; Stedman Gans, Elrigh Louw, and the list goes on,” White said after announcing his team on Friday.
“That’s part of our job as provincial coaches: we want to produce Springboks. I’m sure they know if they do well with the Bulls and the Bulls do well, then that does happen. Let’s just work as a unit here, and the doors will open for you.
“A guy like Elrigh… As you saw, the impact he made last week off the bench was phenomenal for a young guy. Everyone knows what a good player he is, but to come into a game like that and run the lines he did, support, defend and carry like he did is fantastic for us.
“There are others in the room whom we see every day who also have aspirations to be Springboks.”
But White is also wary of the Lions, who nearly broke their duck last week as they went down 39-37 to the Stormers.
The first-round game at Loftus Versfeld was a bit of an arm-wrestle, with the Bulls pulling away from the Lions in the final quarter in a 22-9 victory.
“Ellis Park is always a difficult place for us to play. The reality is that they were unlucky last week, and I’m sure their motivation will be to knock over the number one team, the team on top of the log,” the former Bok coach said.
“They’ve made one change forced through injury, which means that group would’ve trained together for the last two weeks and will get confidence out of that.
“They were unlucky, and I expect them to play like last week – and I thought they played really well last week. With it being an afternoon game, and hopefully it’s nice weather, there’s no reason why they won’t have a full crack to try and score more points.
“We just want to continue winning, and if we want to win the final overseas, we need to win away this week. We had a great 40 minutes (against the Sharks), but I want us to kick on from that 40 minutes.”
15 David Kriel 14 Madosh Tambwe 13 Marco Jansen van Vuren 12 Cornal Hendricks 11 James Verity-Amm 10 Chris Smith 9 Embrose Papier 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain) Elrigh Louw 6 Marco van Staden 5 Ruan Nortjé 4 Walt Steenkamp 3 Trevor Nyakane 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Bench: 16 Schalk Erasmus 17 Gerhard Steenekamp 18 Mornay Smith 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Nizaam Carr 21 Zak Burger 22 Clinton Swart 23 Stravino Jacobs.