Tappe Henning back in 2005. (Photo by Dean Treml/Getty Images)
- Bulls skipper Marcell Coetzee praised the influence of former SA referee Tappe Henning for providing the team clarity on how to deal with officiating in the northern hemisphere.
- The popular Henning was enlisted by Bulls mentor Jake White to come help them out on their current URC tour.
- But the Bulls also deserve credit for how they adapted in the win against Cardiff and Coetzee says they now can’t afford to take a backwards step again.
If the Bulls’ dealings with the United Rugby Championship’s referees appear to have become more effective, then much of the credit lies with a forgotten but familiar face in South African officiating.
Jake White, the franchise’s director of rugby, last week enlisted Tappe Henning’s help after two weeks of relative trauma for his charges in terms of on-field decisions going against them.
Normal service seemingly resumed last weekend when the Bulls slumped to a 16-3 deficit at half-time against the Cardiff Blues, in particular conceding soft penalties at the breakdown.
But renewed focus and, as skipper Marcell Coetzee subsequently admitted, the “lessons” from the former 14-Test referee saw them stroll to an ultimately comfortable 29-19 victory.
“I must compliment Tappe for his role in create awareness among us on what referees in the northern hemisphere are looking for,” said the imposing loose forward and 30-cap Springbok.
“At the end of the day, we want to sell good pictures to the men with the whistles and close the gap in terms of adapting quickly. Tappe has been instrumental for us, providing brilliant feedback.
“He showed us slides on where we can improve and it’s been an important process. We can’t afford to spend too much time still trying to adapt to the refereeing in Europe.”
The 60-year-old Henning – an immensely popular figure in the local game, whom was the youngest referee to handle a Currie Cup final before 2010 and also blew the 1997 Super Rugby showpiece – left for Scotland in late 2013, where he’s been the country’s referee commissioner ever since.
Among all the useful info, two themes stand out.
“In terms of referees’ interpretations, it’s important to have enough understanding to just play on what you’re ‘feeling’ from a referee on a specific match day,” said Coetzee.
“Also, the most important thing is just clear communication, during a match and afterwards to determine where we can improve.”
However, it would be a tad unfair not to highlight that the Bulls themselves deserve some credit for how well they responded in last 40 minutes at Cardiff Arms Park last week, essentially effecting a 360-degree turnaround in their fortunes at the breakdown.
It’s the exact type of confidence boost they need for proving to themselves that adapting to this brave new world of the URC isn’t as daunting as it seemed initially.
“We came here the first two weeks and didn’t really know what to expect,” said Coetzee, who has considerable PRO14 experience with Irish giants Ulster.
“Some of us had an idea, but for the broader group it’s been challenging. But you can see that we’re now finding our feet, the culture and referees.
“It was always going to be a process, let’s be honest. But when you play significant halves of rugby like the one against Cardiff, it helps a lot. Hopefully we’re getting it right.
“We need to build on that. We don’t want to take a step backwards now, we have a foundation to build on.”
The Bulls conclude their URC tour with a match against Edinburgh on Saturday.
Kick-off is at 18:15 (SA time).