Just like high fives were replaced by elbow-bumps since South Africa’s eight franchises returned to non-contact training since the COVID-19 lockdown regulations were eased, there were some notable changes when the Vodacom Bulls returned to Loftus Versfeld last week.
There were quite a few personnel changes in Pretoria, but most notably, the Vodacom Bulls had a change in their coaching structures since the Vodacom Super Rugby season came to a halt in March.
Jake White, now Director of Rugby of the Vodacom Bulls, welcomed back a number of regulars, some familiar faces from the past and a “bunch of exciting juniors” as the squad assembled at Loftus B.
The likes of Arno Botha, Duane Vermeulen, Travis Ismaiel and Marcel van der Merwe are all in line to don the famous blue jersey again.
Also new in Pretoria are two former DHL Stormers stars in Nizaam Carr, who is still in quaratine after returning to South Africa from Wasps in England, and Gio Aplon, who joined the three-time Vodacom Super Rugby champions from Toyota Verblitz, where he previously played in the Japanese Top League under White’s coaching.
“The first week back at training was great,” said White.
“You can see the guys are putting the effort in. They have worked hard in the lockdown time, but there is nothing like training on a rugby field next to the stadium and with your team-mates, even if we are not allowed to take contact.
“Running in a park and running on your own is not ideal, so this getting together as a squad is for me and the players a pretty exciting time.”
The former Rugby World Cup-winning coach said he is excited to build a new squad that will be a bit of an unknown factor, especially as all the teams are in the same boat in terms of restarting their preparations.
“It is a great time to reboot,” said White.
“We are pushing ourselves knowing that we have a fantastic opportunity to grow and expand as a group.
“The DHL Stormers have a lot of Springboks in their midst; the Cell C Sharks were the in-form team in the competition prior to lockdown and the Emirates Lions have been very consistent over the last couple of seasons.”
White said the potential of his squad has him buzzing with excitement.
“Some exciting junior players in the squad will be keen to make their mark, while someone like Duane – whom they will play alongside – still has to get to know them,” said White.
“You are always looking to improve your squad and the reality is that players are coming in and out of contracts all around the world. It is a fluid thing.
“We have players that will leave us and move on and some players will come here from elsewhere. There are no specific signings at the moment, but there will be in future.”