Bulls now carry SA's URC hopes on their shoulders

rugby09 June 2024 01:00
By:Brenden Nel
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Vodacom Bulls © Gallo Images

All South Africa’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship hopes now rest firmly on the shoulders of the Vodacom Bulls.

After Glasgow Warriors’ win over the DHL Stormers on Saturday night, the Bulls are the only remaining South African side in the URC, and will have their title ambitions firmly tested by Irish juggernaut Leinster, who will travel to Loftus Versfeld for a massive semifinal on Saturday.

Defending champions Munster, who beat Ospreys on Friday night, will host the other semifinal against France Smith’s Glasgow side, also on Saturday.

And while it would be strange to see the Bulls as underdogs on their home turf of Loftus Versfeld, where they have only lost one game in the last three seasons to a side from Europe, Leinster’s solid win over the Bulls in the league stages, plus their desperation for some sort of silverware will make them the most dangerous opposition yet for Jake White’s side.

White acknowledged that he saw his team as underdogs in the much-anticipated clash, but would be leaning on some of the knowledge they had built up in playing Leinster in order to put themselves into the final.

“So we probably got no chance against Leinster and no chance against Munster, in everyone’s eyes. Probably two of the best clubs in the world,” White said in assessing his side’s chances.

“But that’s sometimes a nice place to be. There is 160 minutes of rugby left in this season and Benetton showed today that if you play well you can win a knock-out game.”

Despite losing two World Cup winning wingers this week - Kurt-Lee Arendse joined Canan Moodie in undergoing surgery for a minor fracture (Arendse has a cheek fracture and Moodie a fractured index finger) - White said there was little that he needed to tell his players in the lead-up to Saturday’s semifinal in terms of motivation.

“If it’s Leinster, I don’t have to say anything. They drilled us. What am I going to say that’s going to make them feel differently about getting up for this game?”

But White was going to draw from the semifinal in URC 1 that saw the Bulls score a major upset and beat Leinster in Dublin.

“The one really positive thing is they beat us 31-3 in the opening game the first year, and we beat them in the semifinals at Leinster. So it’s not something that hasn’t been done by our group.

“We are the only South African team that has ever played Leinster’s full-strength side and this will be the third time. There is no other franchise that has played Leinster’s full-strength side.

“In three years, not one of the other franchises have faced them. When they came here, they brought their second stringers and at the beginning of the season when we toured there with the South African sides, they were at the World Cup.

“But there’s a positive to that. It means we’ve played their best players – this is the third time. And if you play Rafael Nadal three times, by the third time you learn a lot more than the first time you face him,” White added.

Leinster’s Leo Cullen was more concerned with sorting out travel arrangements, but did admit his side would have to show character if they are to avoid another season without silverware.

"There's plenty of character in the group, that's for certain," said Cullen.

"You don't get into these knockout games by accident, so everyone is going full blooded at these games, so to still be going and have a sixth play-off game ( including Champions Cup) to look forward to is no easy feat.

“"There's the players that are on the field, the players that have contributed to get us to this point. You have to juggle the resources across the season to still be able to fire at this point of the season. There's lots of different dynamics, that's the beauty of the competition.

"How you navigate your way through. We'd love to have a home semifinal, but this is the challenge and the next adventure that we have is a trip to South Africa."

After beating the Stormers, Glasgow coach Smith was excited to face off with Munster, especially the character the team have shown since a tough tour to South Africa that almost derailed their URC campaign.

“I’m excited about the fact we’ve gone through. The guys stuck to the script. The weather was tricky with the rain and we knew we couldn’t afford to turn the ball over much,” Smith said.

“We are still alive in the competition. We prepared well all week and stuck to the plan. We were playing against a very physical opponent and the boys fronted up. I’m proud of that.

“We have built the character of this team over the past two years. It was never something I doubted. We care a lot about this club and about each other as teammates. We really worked hard for the win tonight.”

Smith said it would be a tough semifinal no matter who the opposition was.

“It was always going to be a tough game in the semifinals regardless of who we played,” he added.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Munster, we knew it would be tough. I’m sure it’ll be a great semifinal. We had a very good game against them last season over there and they repaid it with a narrow win over here. I’m sure it’ll be a great semifinal.”

And if the quarterfinals are anything to go by, it will be two massive matches in Pretoria and Limerick with competing storylines all around.

Vodacom United Rugby Championship


Munster 23 Ospreys 7

Vodacom Bulls 30 Benetton 23

Leinster 43 Ulster 20

Glasgow Warriors 27 DHL Stormers 10

Vodacom United Rugby Championship semifinals

Semi-Final 2: Vodacom Bulls v Leinster

Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria

Kick off: 4pm

Live on SuperSport

Semi-Final 1: Munster v Glasgow Warriors

Thomond Park, Limerick

Kick off: 7pm

Live on SuperSport