Coach Leo Cullen says the Vodacom Bulls dumping Leinster out of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship foretells a “painful” end to Irish dominance in the competition.
The Bulls overpowered Leinster in a hard-fought 27-26 win at the RDS Arena on Friday night to eliminate the defending champions and advance to the URC final.
The Irish threw everything at the visitors from the opening whistle but Jake White’s men took a 17-14 lead into half time, and dominated the physical battle, before recording a first victory for a South African URC side in Ireland.
The Irish beat the Bulls comfortably 31-3 when the two teams met in the opening round of the URC at Aviva Stadium in September, but Cullen has admitted the South African teams have proven to be worthy additions to the tournament as well as formidable challengers to the best sides in Europe.
Speaking post-match on Friday, the Leinster boss said: “It’s painful for our guys at the moment. The Bulls were very clinical when they got down to our end of the field.
“The Bulls are a quality team; they came with a good plan and are well coached, and once they had that lead they came with that pressure game and didn’t have to do a huge amount but just put the squeeze on us.
“You see the SA teams play and they don’t change that much. We talked about that [the Bulls] are a very cohesive team, they don’t make changes over the course of the year, and they do what they do and they don’t try to hide anything. But they’re effective at what they do.
“For us, we have to learn some very harsh lessons at times but the SA teams are going to add a huge amount to this competition and we’ve seen that already now.
“And, for our guys, I don’t know if there’s a little bit of an expectancy that we’re just going to get through to the next round, that’s just not the way it works.
“Credit to the Bulls; they came with a plan and executed well and our guys were unfortunately not good enough.”
The Bulls await the winners of the semi-final between the Stormers and Ulster in Cape Town, with a potential all-SA final in the offing.
Cullen added: “You’re down in SA and it’s the No 1 game down there on the TV all the time … you’re up against a world champion team from a world champion country, and you see the talent pool that’s down there from some of the big schools and universities and everything will be feeding into the four franchises now.
“So, for our guys it’s to understand that it’s a proper bloody challenge for us now!”