The real Bull….story?


An interesting article by Brenden Nel.

It was just under a year ago that I happened to be sitting at Trademarx, the restaurant next to the Vodacom Bulls’ training field and overheard a conversation.

It involved two of the young stars at the union, discussing their futures. One was loose forward Jean Cook and the other IRB under-20 Player of the year nominee Shaun Adendorff.

“I’m not happy,” Cook told Adendorff, “I’ve got an offer from the Cheetahs, and I think I’m going to take it.”

“I think I’ll come right with the Sevens team,” Adendorff answered, both looking distant and not in the best of spirits.

I decided not to approach them at that stage, as there was so much else going on. Several of the Bulls Springboks had already announced they were heading to clubs in Europe, while others were openly talking to me about the Bulls’ new policy of recruitment.

It was the same policy that saw players such as Dewald Potgieter, Jano Vermaak and Willie Wepener offered half their salaries to renew their contracts.

Now I don’t know anyone who would take a 50 per cent salary cut and then expect to stay loyal to the same employers that treated them so badly.

The Bulls were telling all who would listen they couldn’t afford to match the European and Japanese salaries, when in private they were simply making the decision very easy for the players to leave. You have to wonder why, especially as the likes of Potgieter, Vermaak and Wepener (not to mention Jacques Potgieter) were all still under contract until after the Currie Cup. All were released before the domestic competition started and, in retrospect, could have made a telling difference to that side, which missed out on making the semifinals of the competition.

All the time the Bulls were selling the tune that everyone was happy, nobody wanted to leave and that the exodus was made so by the falling rand, and players wanting to make a quick buck overseas.

Roll ahead to 2014.

With all that in mind, Adendorff now at the Sevens, Cook at Free State and a host of young players in this Bulls squad, the scene was set for their Super Rugby campaign.

The management, along with those who are responsible for contracting at the union, were now selling the line that “the next generation” needs to make the step up, they need to take over the mantle from those who have left.

Which is all good and well, until the injuries of Arno Botha and Pierre Spies came about.

Suddenly, after two opening losses in the competition the youth policy seems to have been abandoned, and now the Bulls look like they’re on a shopping spree second to none.

Already we’ve seen the signings of Wimpie van der Walt (on a short-term contract) and the return of Dewald Potgieter – never mind that the Bulls basically forced him to leave last season when he wanted to stay.

Then there have been the reports that the Bulls want to sign Juan Smith, the experienced Bok flank who is playing his rugby at Toulon after a two-year injury absence.

When I heard about Smith, I made a phone call to Xander Janse van Rensburg, who is the High Performance Manager at the Bulls, and asked about Smith.

“Yes, we’re interested in him,” he told me.

“But he’s 32?” was my answer

“But he’s playing the best rugby of his life, did you see his last game?” he fired back.

“But he’s 32?” I said again.

The point being that even if the Bulls signed Smith, he would have a maximum of a season at the union. He’s a short-term option. Whatever happened to backing the youth?

Some of the coaching staff tell me the youth policy has been shelved, that the Bulls “don’t believe in the youngsters anymore”. I certainly hope this isn’t true. Jacques du Plessis has been great in this year’s Super Rugby tournament.

The mixed messages coming out of the union are strange in themselves. Do they believe in the youth brigade or not? Are they backing their systems or not? Or is it an admission that the systems have failed and the young players are not up to it?

Was last year’s decision to let all that experience go a mistake? It certainly seems, by bringing back Potgieter, they’re at least partly admitting to it.

It’s all a far cry from the way things were done when the Bulls were on top of their game.

Back then, when Ian Schwartz was High Performance Manager, it was a rarity that any player wouldn’t be sewn up when the negotiating window of 1 June opened up. Schwartz, who is now Bok team manager, used to privately tell us that if the Bulls hadn’t signed a player by that time, they were content to let him go.

There were few exceptions, few players who left who actually went on to better things at other provinces. Adriaan Strauss is one. Bryan Habana – although it is debatable if his provincial career was better in Cape Town – was the other. In both cases the Bulls didn’t want the players to leave, and in both cases family members held sway over the decisions.

Since the change in management the Bulls have lost the likes of Cook, Adendorff and CJ Stander. They backed Louis Fouche over Marnitz Boshoff, they let the two Potgieters go (and look at the impact Jacques has made at the Waratahs).

Add that to the coaching decisions – to bring in Jacques-Louis Potgieter and leapfrog Handre Pollard and the continued backing of Callie Visagie over the talented Bongi Mbonambi and it is clear that some decisions are taken on the whim.

There is no clear and concise policy to recruiting anymore. Rash decisions are made and, in the long term, the team will pay the price. The edge the Bulls always had over other unions is gone.

Now they sit and try to rebuild while plastering cracks when backing their systems should be the way forward.

Don’t be surprised should this continue andyou hear of more young talent heading away from Loftus. The warning signs are there.

If only those who are in charge will see it.

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Better known as Bunny, Took over after Pissant went over to the "Dark Side"


  1. The best thing we can do in SA rugby is to implement an ‘import’ policy whereby unions can only contract at age grou p level say 5 players from outside of its region. This will force the likes of the bulls and Sharks and the stormers to develop its talent until the middle 20’s.

    The Bulls for many years bought every single player at Cravenweek level and let them nag and idle in Pretoria in the hope that something will happen.

    The result is those players were staffed in under 20 and Varsity Cup and Vodacom games while they should have been developed and given opportunities.

    No wonder the fokken Griekwas beat the Bulls today in the VC. At Kwas they actually care and develop each player, where at the big unions they simply buy the next big thing if their star young purchase does not yield a result.

    Now read this:

  2. The Bulls lost 70%? of their management staff in 2012. They are still getting more right than wrong in the union.


    The Griquas ‘look after’ their players because they don’t have any.

  3. Did they not after all that still reach the semi semi finals and have a home semi in SR in 2013?

    That was my recall…

    And that loss took place because said Dewald Potgieter as captain took a set of bizarre decisions in the semi that cost twelve points in penalties that were sitters…

    I would have released him too…

  4. @Morné:

    absolutely. But if the bulls have so many players as a region, why import the entire SA schools team?

    Would they rather talented players go to waist than play at other unions?

  5. The one thing the Bulls get right is for players to buy into the culture of who they are and what they represent. They are a brand much more so than any union in SA.

  6. @Cheetah Glory:

    Once the guys are stars, the Bulls cannot compete with the Sharks and The Stormers on salaries. Perhaps they buy them young and inexpensive and try to hang on to the best ones.

    You should also ask why many young players choose to go to the Bulls?
    The Bulls must have a reputation for treating and developing youngsters better.

  7. @Cheetah Glory:

    I think contrary to popular belief, the Bulls (and Lions for that matter) does not have such a big base to work from. Dawie will probably give a more accurate account of how many schools still promote rugby as a sport, but if it is more than 5 I will be surprised. You will have your Affies, Klofies and probably a school or two in Krugersdorp or something – as for the rest, rugby is dying or dead.

    The only advantage a union like the Bulls have over a place like Griquas is that their schools are reasonably close to their base – I am almost certain even a district like Griquas have more player numbers than the Bulls, just over more vast distances however.

  8. @Morné:

    Jeez mate if the game in PTA is dying then it will be in shit worldwide.

    I had a great day yesterday watching an under 13 match and getting to chat to some of the dads after the game.

    The good news is that Sunday club rugby is growing more and more popular. Its a great day out for father and son and offer rugby outside of the schools while keeping the club system strong.

    The bad news is that the game even at this stage is marred by the cancer that had become the breakdown and its interpretation of it.

    I wonder why the fuck must there be a contest for the ball in the first place. Attacking teams a) kick ball away, b) knock ball on c) run out of space d) pass intercepts.

    So the odds of the other team also getting the ball is already good – why MUST we have this contest on the groung that is basically killing the game as a spectacle?

    We think of rugby and remember great scrums and rock solid creative line-outs, good backline moves, counter attack off spilled balls etc – but over the past 10 years everything started revolving around what happens if a player gets tackled.

    This area is now the theatre and all the other stuff is just sideshows.

    And I can honestly say that I like rugby more than this new game that suddenly has infiltrated the game like a parasite.

    “there has to be a contest for the ball in the tackle”

    But why?

    When are the powers that be going to realize that this game is dying if even at under 13 level the entire match is won or lost by who can get their bodies in the right position to steal a ball once the opposition is tackled? What kind of rubbish is this?

  9. Easy Brendon, when on defense in your own 22, you must try and steal the ball at the breakdown, so that you can get the ball back and clear it. Really simple actually

  10. @Morné: I quickly counted:

    Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool
    Christian Brothers’ College, Mount Edmund
    Clapham High School
    Hillview High School
    Hoërskool Akasia
    Hoërskool Centurion
    Hoërskool C.R. Swart
    Hoërskool Eldoraigne
    Hoërskool Garsfontein
    Hoërskool Gerrit Maritz
    Hoërskool Langenhoven
    Hoërskool Menlopark
    Hoërskool Montana
    Hoërskool Overkruin
    Hoërskool Pretoria Noord
    Hoërskool Voortrekkerhoogte
    Hoërskool Waterkloof
    Hoërskool Wonderboom
    HTS John Vorster
    Pretoria Boys High School
    Pretoria Muslim School
    Pretoria Technical High School
    Pro Arte Alphen Park
    The Glen High School
    Willowridge High School (Pretoria)

    Then you can go to Pietersburg and all the other small towns.

    Cannot believe they do not have good players in the region, Blue Bulls where the first to start Bulletjie Rugby from age 5 and start school boy rugby from age 9.

    Let’s call a spade a spade, I can only see kak administration or rather buying the top players with big cheques in other regions that developing their own local talent. Nothing wrong with buying youngsters but why leave your regions kids to the wolves?

  11. @Aldo:

    No you lost the ball. Its the attacks time to use it. Tackle them so they spill, put pressure on their defence so they make a mistake. Why is the only contest now after a tackle where legally and illegally 2000 laws apply for one ref to spot or not spot? Just leave the attacking side to get the ball out again.

  12. @Cheetah Glory:

    So if a player goes to ground with the ball –
    their favourite passtime BTW – the opponents
    are not allowed to compete for it?

    Maybe I’m hearing you wrong.

  13. @Boertjie:

    This is how I want it to be:

    1) tackled player must be allowed to go to ground. (this held up in the tackle bullocks is a side-show. The game as spectacle does not benefit from it)

    2) Tackled player must be allowed to place the ball backwards by stretching his arms out, BUT MUST THEN LEAVE HIS HANDS OFF THE BALL.

    3) Only once ball has been placed backwards with no hands on it can the defence compete by going through gate.

    4) tackler and tackler assist must roll away from tackle and cannot compete at all. First arriving player can compete once ball has no hand on it.

    Is this so hard?

  14. All laws have to be seen in context of whether they improve the game as a spectacle.

    Pro teams with pro players and pro coaches all have fuckall to do between Monday and Friday but think up ways to make the game more technical and nuanced, yet us as spectators, who work from Monday to Friday, dont want to see all this technical shite.

    We want to see scrums and line-outs and tackles and offloads and up and unders and drops and grubbers and tries being scored.

    What is this ‘breakdown’ bullocks thats now BECOME the game itself?

  15. @Jacques(Bunny):

    And how many of those schools has a rugby culture? Actively promotes the game?

    Had a meeting today with a well known Cape school with over 800 boys in the school – only 200 of them play rugby – this is one of those old ‘traditional’ rugby schools, in the Northern suburbs who is, as you would know, mainly Afrikaans.

    It is all good to say there are 30 schools that offers rugby as a sport but what is the active participation?

  16. @Morné:

    To the contrary, i think due its is phase play and breakdown ‘dramas’ rugby has become as monotonous as league.

    Give me scrums and lineouts and lots of them because they create space.

    What I dont want is for the game to be this thing where once a player is tackled, bodies pile in, and we wait for the ref to call a penalty to whomever he felt contravened one of the 437 laws.

    And it all started with the ozzies crying fold because they wanted momentum to build phases.

    So in effect rugby already sold out to league way back in 2000/2001 when the Brumbies changed the game to what it has become now.

    If the ball does not come out, call a scrum to the opposing team and start again.

  17. @Cheetah Glory:

    You should start watching the Bulls.

    Lots of scrums and kicks and line-outs and kicks and mauls and kicks and runs and kicks.

    And talk about exploiting space! The Bulls are the only team that properly exploits the airial space above the field.
    3-D rugby at it’s best.

  18. @Cheetah Glory:

    No, it sounds pretty messy still.

    If you remove the contest at the tackle, you’d have to adopt a structured turn-over system as in League or Gridiron. Those come with drawbacks of their own.
    If someone can invent a set of breakdown laws that preserve the contest and are easy to police, I’d be all for it.

    Meantime the biggest problem to solve is scrum resets. I watch all scrums at 2x speed with trepidation these days. Who the referee will blow for what seems to be pure lottery.

    Tackle/rucks are not so bad. I see most penalties, the same time as the referees. The rest are pretty clear on replay.

  19. @Timeo:

    I see very little daylight between the player being tackled and the defense, just as I see very little policing of the offside line. Sort this out, get the attacking team a slight bit more time on the ball and a slight bit of leverage on the ground and everything else will fall into place.

  20. @Morné:

    i am reluctant to ever have a go at refs. they cannot all be idiots so we have to look at the laws.

    In the under 13 game you constantly had parents harass ref over the this player not rolling away and this one not releasing and this one going over the ball etc etc.

    The breakdown has become a game of its own, and its not nearly as great a game as rugby.

  21. We also have to start distinguishing between pro rugby and community/schools rugby a lot more in our law making.

    Fine, have the pro game become a refs lottery every time a player is tackled, but there is no reason why schools rugby has to have this same drama imposed on it.

    What I have seen on hours of slow motion video is 10 to 12 year old kids not knowing how to pass or tackle or grubber or side-step, yet they ALL know how to place a ball and how to pilfer a ball, because this is what coaches think are important.

    Is this what you want the game to become?

  22. @Cheetah Glory:

    Refs are as part of the game as passing is.

    What you highlight again are issues outside of the laws of the game, the laws on the breakdown is pretty clear, parents’/refs understanding or interpretation of it is not.

    @Cheetah Glory:

    Collectively what do you think happens most in a game of rugby?

    I will list them for you:

    1) Running
    2) Passing
    3) Tackling (breakdown)

    The difference is, 1 and 2 is an individual effort which collectively makes up for a huge total. 3 is an area where 3 or more players are involved.

    Running or passing is also measured whether it has a direct effect on the game or not. For instance, a fullback running from side to side just covering ground on defence never touching the ball is recorded as running meters. Similarly passes 20 meters away from any defender fielding a kick is recorded as a pass (or passes from scrummies which is directly related to a breakdown).

    So yes, the breakdown is bloody important. You have 150 to 180 on average every game – that is two every minute. If boys are not taught how to enter, clean or steal at a ruck they are hugely disadvantaged.

    In fact, why do you think the reason so many players of colour who are well represented at school level disappear at senior level?

    The answer is simple, they are never coached or conditioned in the mechanical areas of rugby, one of which is the breakdown – a normal up-and-down which happens 150 times a game.

  23. @Morné:

    I agree, it has to be coached. But its currently the only thing being coached as matches are determined by it.

    Coaches can care less if his players cannot pass accurately or run into space as long as the players pilfer ball.

    All I ask is for the breakdown to an an aspect of the game, not the game itself. It makes the game monotonous as every player is focused on waiting for a tackler to go to ground. Everyone plays to the ball now, where only flankers and maybe a 12 used to be tasked with this.

    The result is a game (at age group level) that resembles little girl netball, where they all clog together jumping up and down.

    I yearn for players who see space and how to use it – just 8 or 9 of them on the park who are focused on something other than the tackle area.

  24. @Cheetah Glory:

    The All Blacks couldn’t kick for shit in 2009 when we hammered them with our kicking game.

    What did they do? Employed a kicking expert and made sure all their franchises do a similar thing to improve their nation’s overall kicking game.

    In 2009 Nonu couldn’t kick a barn door – now he kicks of both feet with precision. NZ does not only kick the most of any international team, they kick the most accurately (which is the difference between their kick-chase game and ours).

    The point is, there are many areas in the game that should be coached, some of this comes down to basics, some of it comes down to trends. As a nation we are probably the worst when it comes to rucking or the breakdown, that is now improving because somewhere someone realised we need to catch up to the likes of NZ who are experts at this – and we cannot start when a player leaves school, it is too late.

    Our guys may also be big and strong, but our conditioning is actually shit. That is another area we need to focus on – conditioning specific to the demands of the game.

    Kids should be coached in all areas, but certain areas are more important than others, quite simple.

  25. @Morné:

    I asked on Twitter what skill is most NB for a 12 year old to have. Laurie Fisher felt ‘catch/pass’ and ‘leg tackling’.

    In this group of 24 boys I just tested, only 2 could pass in a single movement, and both happened to the left (strong) side.

    Only 32% of tackles on the left shoulder saw the boys bring the runner down. Lots of heads in front of runner. 12% had the right body position in tackles.

    From what I have seen so far too much attention is given to coaching the breakdown before kids have even been taught to pass or tackle? I am trying to understand why coaches focus so much on the breakdown before basic skills are taught?

  26. @Cheetah Glory:

    The mechanical areas of the game (defence, scrums, line outs, mauls, breakdown, etc) only need to be focussed on from age 16 in my opinion, and then also just the very basics expanding on the basic principles each year.

    Age 9 to 16 should be all about skills.

  27. @Morné:

    Thats it. Rugby at age group level and pro level should almost be two different games, but coaches (mostly just dads) coach that they see on telly and what is discussed in pubs. And right now the breakdown is the be-all.