South Africa

Jake White apologizes to Saracens for Loftus crowd’s behaviour

farrel en Moodie

The Bulls’ director of rugby and head coach, Jake White, was visibly upset by the behaviour of the spectators at Loftus Versfeld during his teams’ great 27-16 victory over the current English Premier League champions, Saracens, on Saturday evening.

The two teams met in the first round of the European Rugby Champions Cup, also known as the Investec Champions Cup.

With the two teams at full strength – and Saracens loaded with English World Cup stars – the Bulls provided a slight surprise by dominating the game from the kick-off and eventually winning fairly easily.

Although the English Premier League champions’ forwards gave good account of themselves and made the Bulls work hard for good possession, it was in the battle between the backlines where the home team was just too fast and skilled for Saracens.

The only negative note on the field was the Bulls’ inability to get a bonus point by scoring four tries, especially considering that three of their six tries were cancelled by the TMO due to technical issues (a foot over the sideline and two forward passes).

There were a few head-on battles in some positions that have been discussed a lot before the game. The most important of these was probably the face-off between the Bulls’ Springbok flyhalf, Johan Goosen and Saracens’ Owen Farrell.

The spectators at Loftus Versfeld clearly had their knives out for Farrell, who is also the captain of the England rugby team. He is an extremely controversial player, often making headlines for the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, on Saturday, Farrell was booed by the Loftus crowd on Saturday every time when he has attracted attention, either through his role as captain or as a kicker.

Farrell incurred the wrath of South Africans for the first time when, during a test match at Twickenham in 2018, he performed an unauthorized and dangerous high tackle on Springbok centre André Esterhuizen without using his arms. South Africans were outraged by this and demanded action against Farrel.

Unfortunately, he then got involved in controversial incidents again and some rugby fans consider him a habitual offender on the field.

His more recent skirmish with the Springbok and Bulls full-back, Willie le Roux, after the final whistle blew in the World Cup semi-final between the Springboks and England, was interpreted by many South Africans as poor sportsmanship.

The fact remains that Farrell has built up a reputation as a thug on the field through his own actions. His endless involvement in incidents away from the ball and his characteristic indignant attitude afterwards is oil on the fire of the perception that he is a spoiled brat with an entitlement mentality.

Against this background, as well as other controversies involving Farrell in the media, South African rugby fans have obviously built up an antagonism against him.

Loftus Versfeld’s spectators have become known as some of the sportiest crowds in rugby through many years. There is an unwritten rule at Loftus that opponents are not booed, while silence usually prevails when kickers aim for the poles for penalty- or goal kicks.

Saturday’s behaviour has occurred only during exceptional incidents in the past, usually when the spectators were furious about poor referee decisions or when there was provocation by a player, as happened when there was interaction between the controversial Luke Watson in 2009 and the Loftus spectators during a match between the Bulls and the Stormers.

However, White distanced himself and his team in no uncertain terms from the spectators’ behaviour towards Owen Farrell on Saturday night after the match between his team and Saracens. He requested the Bulls’ supporters to maintain good sportsmanship against all opponents.

He provided his apology to Saracens and Farrell for the crowd’s behaviour and emphasized that Farrell is a rugby superstar who does not deserve something like that.

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