Ken Borland
Sports Journalist
3 minute read
9 Jun 2022
5:10 pm

The joy of sport: Bulls could upset the team they crave to emulate

Ken Borland

'People follow sport because there’s always a chance, the players believe they can do it and I want them to give it a real crack."

Young guns believe: (from left) Elrigh Louw, Ruan Nortje and Johan Grobbelaar have their sights set on upsetting Leinster. Picture: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images

There is no doubt the Bulls players and management crave the sort of pedigree and success in European rugby that Leinster enjoy, and coach Jake White is hoping upsetting the Irish giants in their United Rugby Championship semi-final in Dublin on Friday is the first step on that path.

Leinster have won the European Champions Cup four times, second only to Toulouse (5), and the Pro14 competition (the URC’s predecessor) eight times including the last four tournaments in a row. They also topped the final URC log by six points.

But while it’s obvious how much White respects Leinster, it’s also one of the great joys of sport that hot favourites are sometimes upset by the underdogs in knockout matches. It’s those games the fans live for, and the former World Cup winning coach is hoping Friday night is one of those days for the Bulls.

“Leinster are an incredible team, to put it in perspective, Sean Cronin, their reserve hooker, has played 206 games for them and Jonny Sexton has played 183. Together they have probably played more matches than our entire squad and they are both on the bench.

“We all want to become like Leinster in terms of our structures and we have massive respect for them. Who else has players like Cronin, Sexton, Cian Healy and Ciaran Frawley on the bench?

“Leinster used 60 players in this season’s URC, which is 16 more than us. Those learnings mean you will be so much better next year and after that. For us it’s about building a team over the next couple of years so we can be one of the strongest clubs in world rugby.

“But people follow sport because there’s always a chance, the players believe they can do it and I want them to give it a real crack. We’ve got confidence that on our day we can win,” White said.

Also read: Call it belief: Hendricks so sure Bulls won’t be culled he packed 2 bags

For the upset to happen though, it’s going to be crucial for the Bulls to absorb the early blows Leinster, at their formidable RDS Arena, are going to rain down on them.

“We have to start well, Leinster score most of their points in the first 25 minutes,” White said. “It’s very difficult to play catch-up against them, especially at their home ground.

“La Rochelle stayed in the game well in the Champions Cup final a fortnight ago, but the last time we were here, we looked again and we were 15 points down.

“But it will be different this time because we won’t be overawed, we are more controlled now and we have more settled combinations.”

Also read: Leyds, Rhule star in La Rochelle’s dramatic Champions Cup final win

Having bished-and-bashed their way into the last four, there is no pressure on the Bulls, and whatever they get out of Friday night’s game will be a bonus.

“I think we have surpassed everything we were meant to do already,” White said after naming an unchanged starting XV on Thursday. “Now we see if we can live with the best standard of European clubs.”

Bulls: Canan Moodie, David Kriel, Cornal Hendricks, Harold Vorster, Madosh Tambwe, Chris Smith, Zak Burger; Elrigh Louw, Arno Botha, Marcell Coetzee, Ruan Nortje, Walt Steenkamp, Mornay Smith, Johan Grobbelaar, Gerhard Steenekamp. Bench: Bismarck du Plessis, Simphiwe Matanzima, Robert Hunt, Janko Swanepoel, WJ Steenkamp; Embrose Papier, Morne Steyn, Kurt-Lee Arendse.