Lionel Cronje of Toyota Verblitz in action in the Japanese Top League (Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images)
Sibusiso Mjikeliso – Sport24
Flyhalf Lionel Cronje said Bulls director of rugby Jake White knows how to adapt his coaching methods to the needs of the team, despite some uncertainty as to how the new-look Bulls will play.
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Cronje played under White at Toyota Verblitz in Japan and knows better than most how the former Springbok World Cup-winning coach evolved his methods to coach in different countries since that famous 2007 triumph.
White has been surgically moulding the Bulls into potential Super Rugby winners again. New acquisitions Gio Aplon, Walt Steenkamp and Schalk Erasmus have joined the project, while Arno Botha, Marcel van der Merwe and Travis Ismaiel have returned to Loftus.
Forwards Sintu Manjezi and Jason Jenkins could also add more muscle to a team that will boast Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen once rugby resumes.
Cronje predicted that White would develop a winning team in Pretoria.
“Jake is very good at identifying what different leagues require,” he said.
“You’re not going to coach and play a kicking game in Japan because they want to see an exciting brand of rugby. He adapts to what the leagues require.
“When he coached the Boks at the World Cup, he understood where our strengths were and he coached according to that. The same applied when he was at the Sharks and in France (Montpellier).
“Even during the short stint I had with him at the Brumbies, he was exposed to some awesome backline players and loose-forwards. He was able to adapt and he could understand what the players wanted.
“He understood what brand they wanted to play and, most importantly, how to get victories. Whatever it’s going to take to win, that’s what Jake is going to do.
“He’s going to provide you with the perfect game plan and system to allow you to become winners. It’s also important for him to develop young players and get them to win at a young age. In Japan, he developed so many of their superstars like Kazuki Himeno, who was their World Cup [blindside] flanker.”
Cronje has also been murmured to be one of those Verblitz players that could reunite with White at Loftus, to fill the void left by youngster Manie Libbok. But Cronje said he and White had not spoken about the possibility of him playing in blue at some point this year.
“I know that Jason and Gio are going to be involved with the Currie Cup but I haven’t formally chatted to Jake at any time,” said Cronje.
“I’m still contracted to Toyota until March next season. We are obviously not playing any rugby at the moment but if I get an opportunity and permission to get a Currie Cup gig for two or three months, it could happen.
“But right now, with all the uncertainty in and around sport, I am 100% committed to Toyota.”
White’s technical team has also taken shape, with assistants Russell Winter, Joey Mongalo and Nollis Marais joining the coaching ranks. Previous coaches Pote and Daan Human were, however, released to pursue other opportunities, while players such as Johnny Kotze and Warrick Gelant also left the stable.
According to Cronje, the prospect of being coached by and working with White ought to entice any player with a similar will to win as White does.
“Jake’s a brilliant coach,” Cronje added.
“He is very honest and very fair – at times really brutal – but he knows what he wants and he’s good at installing professional systems.
“If you play well, he’ll back you, if not then he will make big calls and big changes. In a nutshell, he wants to win. He’s very competitive by nature.
“If you are serious about your rugby and you’re serious about winning, then you want to play under Jake because you know the kind of professional environment you’ll play under.”