For the first couple of years of Jake White’s tenure at Loftus Versfeld, the Bulls were always first or second on the log as they dominated their domestic rivals, but the United Rugby Championship has posed a much sterner challenge for them, and their director of rugby is delighted with the character they have shown in climbing from the basement of the log into sixth place now, with a quarterfinal spot confirmed.
Their hard-fought 29-17 bonus point victory over Glasgow Warriors in Pretoria at the weekend means the Bulls, with 53 points, now cannot be bumped out of the top eight by either Scarlets (44pts) or Ospreys, who have two games in hand but only have 39 points.
“In all our other tournaments we were generally first or second on the log from the start, but we’ve now had to play catch-up and get bonus points and I’m obviously very happy that we’ve shown lots of character,” White said.
“We were second-last with just 14 points after six rounds, so it’s first prize really to be in the playoffs. We’re not worried where we play them, we’re just happy to get in.
“We didn’t play well overall, but we played really well at times. We didn’t really play with a lot of rhythm or tempo because it was a game of stop/start and it looked like the waterboys were on all the time.
“That broke our momentum and the tempo looked terrible. There was also a bit of naivety in terms of game-management, we let the opposition back in the game again.”
Glasgow coach Danny Wilson spoke about how having massive lumps of beefy Bulls flesh constantly battering them had “taught us a lesson about another level of physicality” and White said the home side only really picked up momentum when they started “wrestling” the visitors.
“Not many teams run a side like Glasgow to pieces so today’s challenge was to wrestle them. It suited us to play that way and it was a great learning experience for the team,” White said.
“Against a side that does not give you much space, time or opportunity, that’s what was needed in this game. There were certain things we did poorly in terms of execution, but we found a way to win.
“We wrestled them when we had to, but having wrestled and wrestled them, we then suddenly went to a different style and that can come back and bite you,” White said.
The sum of their situation though is that it is almost impossible for the Bulls to finish any higher than third, even if they beat Ospreys with a bonus point on May 20 in Swansea.
Munster are currently second on 56 points and will be underdogs when they visit defending champions Leinster in the final round, but the Sharks (56 points) visit Ulster (55), with the Bulls needing a draw in that match and for the Scarlets to beat the Stormers (56).