CAPE TOWN - In some quarters, it was almost as if the world had ended for the Bulls when Johan Goosen was ruled out of the Currie Cup final due to Covid-19.
Goosen has been the catalyst on attack for the Pretoria side throughout the tournament since joining from French club Montpellier, and he was again instrumental in the 48-31 semi-final demolition of Western Province.
The Springbok pivot’s absence was a huge blow to the Bulls’ hopes of defending their title that they won in January, and that concern was also due to his replacement, Chris Smith, having battled in the Rainbow Cup final against Benetton in Italy in June.
The former Maties and Pumas No 10 felt the heat on a hot Treviso day as his tactical kicking game didn’t relieve the pressure on a Bulls pack that went backwards.
But White was not among the doubters, and backed Smith to guide the Bulls to victory against the Sharks.
And the 27-year-old from Cape Town did just that, scoring 14 points with the boot, putting up perfectly weighted up-and-unders, and running hard at the Sharks with ball-in-hand as well in the Bulls’ 44-10 victory at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
What impressed White the most, though, was how Smith found his outside backs with his precise passing.
“You’ve got to give credit to (backline coach) Chris Rossouw as well. You lose your flyhalf, but I was always comfortable. He has spent lots and lots of time with Chris Smith, and not just this week, but since we’ve been together, and he’s got massive amounts of confidence with him,” White said.
“You saw today – all the little games and all the little wins that Chris Smith has had along the way, kicking winning kicks and playing in big games, just all add up.
“And I had no doubt… His passing today, hitting those centres through the holes and everything is as good as any 10 that’s playing. So, really happy for him.
“But we downplayed that (Goosen’s absence). When you get to a point where you lose a guy and you go ‘Oh, that’s the campaign gone’, then you don’t really give much faith to the players that are in the team as well.
“And I said one day it can happen that we lose Goosen because he goes to the Springboks. And then, is the season over? What are we going to do – are we going to pack up and leave?
“I’m glad that the players actually understood that… just do your job. Chris Smith didn’t win Man of the Match, but he played really well.”
Now Smith will hope to continue producing that kind of form in the United Rugby Championship, where he will face top-class flyhalves such as Ireland’s Johnny Sexton and Scotland’s Jaco van der Walt. The Bulls will fly to Europe on Saturday to begin an epic four-match tour against Leinster (September 25), Connacht (October 1), Cardiff (October 9) and Edinburgh (October 16).