SA Rugby solve Bulls travel nightmare with new flights

rugby10 April 2024 05:05
By:Brenden Nel
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© Gallo Images

After the complaints about a nightmare travel schedule, it seems SA Rugby’s travel department was able to source better flights for the Vodacom Bulls ahead of their Investec Champions’ Cup match against Northampton Saints after all.

Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White spoke about the initial plans, which had the Bulls travelling on eight different flights to reach Northampton and his dismay with the way it would hamper preparation.

But since that Tuesday morning chat, things seemed to have changed by Tuesday evening when the team left for England. The initial squad travel list on eight flights, which was seen by this reporter, had been replaced later in the day.

Late on Tuesday night, after the team had left, SA Rugby sent out a media advisory where they corrected the flight details. In the end the best possible outcome for all parties was achieved by some hard work behind the scenes by SA Rugby’s travel department.

“Media are advised that SA Rugby provided 38 flights for the Vodacom Bulls Investec Champions Cup quarterfinal squad – 33 in business class and five in economy class,” the advisory said.

“The playing squad will arrive in London before 08h00 local time on Wednesday having travelled overnight in business class on two airlines: British Airways (24 players and management) and Lufthansa (4 players and management). The coach and CEO also flew directly to London overnight on Virgin in business class. The balance of eight of the tour squad (four management and four players) travelled via Zurich, Doha, and Dubai.”

The new travel arrangements are a far cry from the initial list that caused such an uproar, which had 8 players on an overnight BA flight,six players fly out on Lufthansa, five on Air France, five on KLM, five on Qatar and four on Emirates.

One player would fly out on Virgin Atlantic, while four go economy class via Zurich on Swiss Air to Birmingham.

It is understandable that the travel department of SA Rugby had done their best, and the flight changes could have come at the last minute, as they referenced in the media advisory. And given the fact that the quarterfinal was only finalised by 4pm on Sunday afternoon, it was a tough task for them to get flights out at such short notice.

“Media will appreciate that the high demand for business class seats in and out of South Africa, allied to the reduced number of flights into the country and the late confirmation of the required seats (Sunday evening) made it well-known to all parties that securing business class seats on a single flight would be impossible,” the advisory said.

“Pre-booking seats was discounted as an option in view of the potential risk of loss of 100 per cent of the flight cost for a group booking, should it not be required as it was unknown until 48 hours before departure whether the Vodacom Bulls would qualify, or be playing home or away (in the event of qualification).

“SA Rugby believes that the flights sourced by SA Rugby for the Vodacom Bulls (at a cost to SA Rugby of R4 108 449.00) represent the very best outcome it was possible to achieve in the circumstances.”

White further referenced the cumulative effect of flights on the squad that made it more difficult to win such a big fixture away from home, and hinted that there would be a number of changes to his team for the fixture, especially with a massive Vodacom United Rugby Championship fixture waiting for them when they get back.

“We leave Tuesday. In an ideal world I would have loved to leave on Wednesday night and land on Thursday, and been able to prepare Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” White explained.

“When you leave on Tuesday, and guys are sore after a tough game on the weekend, it is difficult. People assume that because the score was 59-19 it was an easy game, but those games can sometimes be a tougher fixture than winning 15-10. Monday they are a bit sore, and Tuesday you try and do as much prep as you can. You get there Wednesday and you can’t have two teams train each other because you don’t have so many players on Tour.”

White referenced Leinster’s decision to send a second string side to face the Bulls last year so they could prepare for their Champions’ Cup final against La Rochelle - a team that got beaten by 60 points at Loftus.

“Leinster sent a team that we beat by 60 points - and they have 30-something internationals, and they had to do that in order to give themselves a chane to win two competitions. We’re talking about a club that has invested years and years into Academy development and producing Irish internationals.

“Even they had to juggle, We can only manage as best we can what is given to us. And what is given is a short week, Tuesday fly, Thursday limited training, Monday sore and a lot of guys have niggles. And it is on the back of Dragons away, Leinster away, 28 hours travel, Lyon at home.”