URC FINAL: Glasgow should not be underestimated

rugby21 June 2024 06:00
By:Gavin Rich
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Glasgow warriors @ Getty Images

The Vodacom Bulls had to produce their first full 80 minute performance and their best defensive effort of the season to beat Leinster last week and the biggest mistake they can make is to think that the same won’t be needed in Saturday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship final.

The Glasgow Warriors come to Pretoria for the decider, rather than hosting it at Murrayfield, chiefly because they blew it the last time they were in South Africa. That was in May, when they lost to the Bulls in Pretoria and then got annihilated by the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg the following week.

That doesn’t augur well for the Scottish team, but their South African coach Franco Smith, who played for a time for the Bulls in his playing career although he will primarily be remembered for his exploits for the Cheetahs, knows a lot about playing on the highveld and playing at altitude.

He didn’t waste time after his team’s excellent away win against Munster last week either in making it clear that his team is still smarting from what happened on their last visit.

“We have unfinished business there,” he said in the post-match television interview when asked to look ahead to the journey to Loftus.


Make no mistake, that word, “journey”, is one of the key reasons the Bulls will start as outright favourites to join the DHL Stormers as South African winners of this competition. Travelling across the equator, and then playing at altitude, is a significant disadvantage.

But Munster showed last year in coming to Cape Town and winning the 2022/23 Grand Final that the disadvantages are not insurmountable. Of course, Munster didn’t have to go to altitude. And they played the Stormers on a day which provided northern hemisphere like conditions and on a field that at that point was like a cabbage patch and didn’t give the Stormers a proper chance of playing to their running strengths. Munster would have felt at home.

Going to Loftus is a more daunting prospect than the one that Munster faced for those reasons, although mention of Munster also cues the fact that the Bulls are not as unbeatable at home as maybe we thought they were before they played the then champions and lost in April.


This time around the final should provide conditions that both teams appreciate. Glasgow are similar to the Stormers in the sense that they like to run and offload, and while they lost on their last visit, they did show how dangerous they can be with their attacking game by coming back from a big deficit to only lose by a few points and grab two bonus points.

Glasgow, who have some significant players back who weren’t at Loftus last time, will no doubt channel those last few minutes into their psychological preparation, just as the Bulls director of rugby Jake White will be reminding his players of what Munster did when they started as underdogs in Cape Town a year ago.

Rugby history is rife with instances where outstanding performances in a semifinal, which the Bulls’ performance was last week, turn out to be a team’s final. England in the 2019 World Cup in Japan was an excellent example of that. They thought they’d won the World Cup when they smashed the All Blacks and didn’t know what hit them when South Africa made it clear from the start they had other ideas.

Make no mistake, while they will be underdogs, Glasgow do have the pedigree to win. They are the best mauling team in the competition as per the statistics, they have a solid scrum and perhaps the best attacking centre combination in the URC plus pace to burn on the wings. Last week they were abrasive at the breakdowns against Munster. That and their defence was what won them the game at Thomond Park.


Before they came to South Africa they were at the top of the log in league play and they were thereabouts most of the season in a top four battle that was never separated by much. They would be much more dangerous at the Scotstoun, but if Benetton can push the Bulls, like they did in the quarterfinal two weeks ago, then Glasgow can push them even harder.

Avoiding the passivity of the Benetton clash and recapturing the intensity and drive of the Leinster game is key for the Bulls. If they can do that, even the best Glasgow performance won’t stop them. But the Bulls are going to have to be on their game. While the fact it is a final should give them extra motivation, the same is true of a Glasgow side that is much more than just a Scottish team.

Money has been spent at the club on ensuring they are competitive in both Europe and the URC and they have several excellent overseas players on their books, Sione Tuipoluto, who the Bulls will have to stop at all costs, being one.

Cameron Hanekom, Marco van Staden, Wilco Louw of course, Johan Goosen, David Kriel and the rest of the Bulls were all outstanding last week. If they are again, the URC trophy is heading for Pretoria. But if Glasgow are as good as they were against Munster, they will push the Bulls hard. It could be a riveting final.

Vodacom United Rugby Championship Grand Final

Vodacom Bulls v Glasgow Warriors (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria - Saturday 6pm)

Teams to be announced

Referee: Andrea Piardi (Italy)

Prediction: Bulls to win by 7