Sibusiso Mjikeliso – Sport24
Jake White’s appointment as the Bulls director of rugby in March raised plenty eyebrows, not least from former Bulls forward Pedrie Wannenburg, who found it “funny” that the former Springbok coach was in charge of his old team.
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Wannenburg played over 100 Super Rugby matches for the Bulls during their golden era, winning three titles, and earned 20 Springbok caps, during which he also witnessed the enmity that sometimes persisted between White and some Bulls legends such as Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.
White also relished getting one over the men from Pretoria, like the time when his 2013 Brumbies stole the semi-final at Loftus with a Tevita Kuridrani try at the death.
“To see him coaching the Bulls is kind of funny for me. He didn’t like us very much when I was playing,” Wannenburg said from Houston, Texas, where he’s now based.
“But wherever he went he managed to get the right people in to help the players perform and that’s what the Bulls need at the moment.
“He will get the right coaching and personnel around the players and build a good system going forward. Hopefully that can turn the Bulls around for the next few years.”
Wannenburg backed the former Rugby World Cup-winning coach to succeed in Pretoria but hoped that White had grown and evolved as a mentor over the years.
White famously spurned loose forwards of smaller disposition as Springbok coach, preferring instead a back-row laden with hulky ball-carrying players that could provide extra lineout options.
“As a coach, you have to evolve and grow with the game and I hope he has,” said Wannenburg.
“I know he liked a certain style and wanted the players to play in a particular way but if you wanna be a top coach, which he is, you have to grow with the game.
“If your team needs a fetcher, you have to go with a fetcher. There are so many good fetchers going around. Teams like England and Australia still deploy fetchers.
“Jake knows when to get a fetcher in and how to get a team balanced. I really hope he does well with the Bulls.”
You wouldn’t think it but Wannenburg is now a project manager and sales rep for a company that is helping curb the spread of the coronavirus in the US. FridgeWize, an industrial refrigeration technology company owned by South African Ryan Grobler, took a slight detour from their usual line of business to produce protective personal equipment, masks and industrial disinfectant.
“I left rugby last season but I still want to go back into coaching for the club sides here,” Wannenburg said.
“It’s been about seven months since I transitioned into this corporate world. Rugby in America is going to get big but it’s gonna take a while.”
The enormity of White’s mission to return the Bulls to their perch grows bigger with every passing minute due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has the sports industry by the throat – especially South Africa’s already struggling rugby economy. With pay-cuts looming, a number of players are rumoured to have opted out of their contracts, most notably centre Johnny Kotze, who has drawn interest from Japan.
The Bulls bled no less than 10 players at the end of last year’s World Cup, including Springboks Jesse Kriel, Handre Pollard and RG Snyman, to overseas clubs. The financial insecurity caused by the current crisis could exacerbate the situation, forcing more players to look for more financially lucrative offers elsewhere.
“It’s difficult for coaches in South Africa to rebuild a side every second year,” said Wannenburg, who also played for Ulster, Castres and Oyonnax before moving to the US.
“Youngsters are moving to France or elsewhere around the world to make money. Can you blame them? No.
“I did it; I left for overseas to try and get a little bit of a cushion for when I retired. But it makes the job difficult for the coach every year.
“Look at the Bulls team from last year; we had a good team and then they all just left. People come to the stands to see their heroes play and every other year they are changing faces. That’s also a big influence to the dwindling of crowds.”