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Ex-Wits coach praises ‘all-round’ Bulls en route to capturing Currie Cup

- Tshepiso Mametela

A new name has been engraved into the coveted gold trophy of the Currie Cup in 2020/21 after a day steeped in heroics saw the Bulls trot to a 26-19 win over the Sharks at their Loftus fortress on Saturday, 31 January 2021.

It was a game where the home side trailed before seizing the initiative in classic tug of  war fashion, equally matched by the opposition on the day, before finally snatching a last-gasp winner — after the scores were tied 19-all in the closing stages of the second half of extra-time, ringing in the celebrations beneath a storm-threatened Pretoria sky.

But while a thrilling brand of rugby, characterised by combative aerial kicking interspersed with a sharp eye for the try line which ensured the Bulls would come out on top, equal credit would go the way of a stern defensive strategy coming through for the campaign-winning effort.

This is the view of Joey Mongalo, an aficionado in his defensive coaching role at the Pretoria-based side, who waxed lyrical of the win but credited the blended formula of good attacking, breakdowns and set-piece play, which accompanied the 15 players on their way here.

“The defensive structure the guys have bought into [demonstrates] how they’re really putting their lives on the line regarding the tackle situation,” said the former Wits and Junior Lions coach. “Structurally, they’ve bought into the plan and that’s always rewarding ... which should bode well for us.

“Was it a key component? I think all the components were key; our coaching staff there are many guys who work hard — the breakdown coach, attack coach, line-out coach and even Jake as the head coach. All of the coaches’ work comes together to produce a good product on the day.”

Mongalo said the cup win was a particularly emotional one for him as he had been contending with a myriad of issues leading up to the game. “It all came out in the emotion of that final whistle but it was also very much rewarding because we could see the effort that we had put in over the last seven months,” he said.

“Also, the Sharks we played against were pretty good. I thought at a stage they might have done enough to win the game; they were tactically very good. They’ve got a simple game plan but when they execute it, they put a lot of pressure on the opposition.”

With the recent changing of the guard at the union which has seen them go through four or five head coaches in the past five years, according to the defensive coach, who is, however, tipping the Bulls to carry the momentum of this cup triumph forward, there exists an air of expectation that stability can be achieved.

Elaborating on this, he said if the coaching staff and playing group can stick together for the next two or three years, the last seven months can be reflected on with a sense of accomplishment, and to a greater degree, grace in the face of defeats.

The ex-Wits coach, who enjoyed pockets of success with Wits University in the Varsity Cup, is optimistic of the institution’s propensity to produce future domestic rugby success stories. “You can expect to see ex-Witsies in many teams over the years,” said Mongalo.


Vodacom Blue Bulls, 2021 Carling Currie Cup Champions (PC: Blue Bulls Facebook Page)

“Wits has become one of the powerhouses in Varsity Cup now; it has become the place of choice for students to come to play rugby after school,” he added. “That can also be put down to the work that Moby [Michael Dick, director of sports at Wits Sport] and Hugo [van As, Wits 1st team rugby head coach] and the Wits Rugby office is doing.

“It’s a matter of time before you see more stories like Daniel Kasende, who played for the Griquas, and Lux Ntsepe who also played for the Griquas. I think you’ll see many more Witsies in big union teams over the years because Wits is a great breeding ground for both players and coaches.”