CAPE TOWN – While new signings keep on rocking up at Loftus Versfeld, it doesn’t mean that the Blue Bulls are “buying success”.
That was the gist of a statement from Bulls president Willem Strauss on Tuesday, following last week’s signing of Johan Goosen.
The Springbok utility back is currently at French club Montpellier, and could conceivably have continued at another side in Europe, or even Japan, if he wished.
But he has mentioned that he wants to return home to be closer to his family, and also be part of the Bulls’ re-awakening as the giants of South African rugby.
The Pretoria side won both trophies on offer last season – Super Rugby Unlocked and Currie Cup – under new director of rugby Jake White, who replaced Pote Human last March.
There is no doubt that the former Bok boss has put his stamp on the team in assembling an impressive squad, while also rejuvenating the careers of the likes of Marco van Staden, Cornal Hendricks and Stedman Gans, who were already in Pretoria.
And having White in charge has been a major part of the Bulls’ success, Strauss said, who pointed out that the coach has let several players go, and brought in others. Captain Duane Vermeulen’s return to Pretoria was announced on March 1 last year, and White’s appointment just over three weeks later.
One of the first big calls he made was to get rid of then-captain and centre Burger Odendaal, who moved to the Lions.
Gio Aplon, Nizaam Carr, Walt Steenkamp, Sintu Manjezi, Jan Uys, Elrigh Louw, Arno Botha, Morné Steyn, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Madosh Tambwe, Zak Burger and Marcel van der Merwe are among the new faces White brought to Loftus, while Goosen, Marcell Coetzee and James Verity-Amm are on their way there.
Fans of the Stormers, Sharks and Lions on social media have questioned how the Bulls have been able to recruit such a strong group of players, especially since SA Rugby instituted a salary cap of R60 million and a squad limit of 45 players.
But in a WhatsApp statement on Tuesday afternoon, Strauss said: “There seems to be a perception by our opponents’ supporters that we are ‘buying success’. However, we are well within the salary cap. These are the facts:
“1) We have offloaded a substantial amount of players who are deemed not good enough and/ or not part of Jake’s plans. They are replaced by quality players. This takes incredible skill and planning of Jake and Edgar (Rathbone, Bulls chief executive) (the best I’ve seen in my 32-year career), which they made me part of.
“2) We have a Jake White! Players want to play for him, even though they can make more money elsewhere. Everyone likes to be part of a winning team. Everyone one wants to be coached by a world-class coaching staff in a High Performance environment.
Zak Burger blew up the domestic scene last year and became a cult hero for the Griquas. Get to know one of the Vodacom Bulls’ latest recruits a little better in this week’s episode of “Game Changer”, exclusive to the Vodacom Bulls app: https://t.co/GBDjImuyap pic.twitter.com/JreVs4iBo5
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) April 19, 2021
“3) Us as leadership, shareholders and stakeholders at every level have created a stable and dynamic environment at all levels which is geared for success. From our elite squads at school level, clubs up to professional level, are working towards the same vision.
“4) Our structures are aligned at amateur and professional levels, keeping our feeder systems and pipelines strong and healthy.
“I must admit that I prefer this jealousy angle, and having a target on our back, much more than the mockery we as Bulls fans had to endure the previous decade!”
While White has tasted domestic success, he is keen to spread his wings further and wants the Bulls to be contenders for the PRO16, which is set to take place in October.
The Rainbow Cup is supposed to kick off on Friday, with the Bulls scheduled to face the Lions on Saturday, but there is doubt that the tournament will take place, with SA Rugby expected to make an announcement on the event either on Tuesday or Wednesday.