CAPE TOWN – It’S 2006, and Jake White was feeling the heat for refusing to pick Luke Watson in the Springbok team.
This writer once asked him at a press conference about why he wasn’t picking a fetcher flank like Watson, and his obsession with big loose forwards who can jump in the line-outs.
White’s response? “The only fetcher I need are my two sons, when they fetch me a beer from the fridge on a Sunday.”
Now 14 years later, it’s a very different tune that the former Bok coach sings these days at Loftus Versfeld.
In fact, White came around to understanding the value that a specialist openside fetcher flank can add to any rugby team long before he came back to South Africa and the Bulls this year.
Michael Hooper played a starring role in his 2012 Brumbies Super Rugby team, and he called on George Smith to return from Japan to play for the Canberra outfit the next year.
At one stage, White even had two fetchers in his starting line-up in Smith and fellow Wallaby star David Pocock, and once was quoted as saying that Smith was “one of the greatest ever” players.
In 2020, having guided the Bulls to the top of the Super Rugby Unlocked log following the 30-25 victory over the Lions at the weekend, White is on the verge of delivering the first serious trophy to Loftus Versfeld since the 2010 Super Rugby title.
He can sit back and enjoy the view from the top this week, with the Bulls on a bye ahead of their final game against the Pumas in Pretoria on November 20.
One of the main reasons for the team’s success has been the form of their own fetcher flank, Marco van Staden.
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) October 27, 2020
A three-Test Springbok, who is the same height as Watson at 1.84m, the 25-year-old has been an integral cog in the Bulls machine winning four out of their five matches.
A key aspect of his game that has improved significantly is his ball-carrying. Van Staden has made 39 carries, which places him second behind Stormers fullback Warrick Gelant (44) on the official tournament list, while he has also excelled on defence, making 34 tackles to be placed joint second with the Lions No 8 Len Massyn – with Lions lock Marvin Orie on top with 37.
But it is his breakdown work that has helped the Bulls to stop the momentum of the opposition, and win penalties to gain territory and launch attacks from.
Van Staden has perhaps been guilty of “chasing” almost every ruck in the past, and thereby conceding too many penalties, but he has learned how to hold back a bit and pounce at just the right time.
“He’s been probably the most consistent player for us this season. He’s always a threat – he carries well, his breakdown skills are phenomenal. I think what’s happened is that he’s got a lot of one-on-ones with the breakdown coach, Nollis Marais, and what’s really happening is that he is making such great calls as a defensive jackal as well,” White said.
“It’s not just going into every single breakdown. The way that he understands the role and understands the timing of what he does – whether he goes in, or folds around the corner and waits for the next breakdown, I thought he is getting better and better at that all the time. He was outstanding (against the Lions).”
So, White stopped short of saying the word “fetcher” but a jackal in Van Staden has proved a point …