Jake White has built up Leinster as heavy favourites for Friday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship semi-final in Dublin, but says the Vodacom Bulls are looking forward to measuring their progress against the “benchmark” of club rugby. DYLAN JACK reports.
On the eve of a game, White admitted would be the biggest of his tenure as director of rugby and head coach of the Bulls, with the message clear: his side has a mountain to climb to win in Dublin.
While the Bulls have been able to keep continuity and name a match-day squad with capped Springboks in captain Marcell Coetzee, centre Cornal Hendricks, flank Arno Botha and replacements Bismarck du Plessis, Embrose Papier and Morne Steyn, by comparison Leinster’s starting lineup has 13 capped Irish internationals.
The Irish side will also be able to call on Sean Cronin and national captain Johnny Sexton from the bench, who have more provincial caps together than most of the Bulls squad.
Some pointed to how French outfit La Rochelle stunned Leinster in the European Champions Cup final as a potential glimmer of hope for the Bulls, but for White it is not that simple.
“It’s going to be one of those games. We are not taking anything away from them. We have massive respect for them,” White told media on Thursday. “We have been here before and we know how good they are. It’s not a case of using any blueprint. I don’t think you can take any one game in isolation. They have played 225 times at the RDS Stadium in the PRO14 and have lost 21 times. So, there aren’t many games to look at.
“We will have to start well. If you look at Leinster, they score most of their points in the first 25 minutes and then it becomes incredibly difficult for teams to catch up to them. One thing La Rochelle did get right was they managed to stay in the game and were able to win it at the end.
“Leinster have been the benchmark of European rugby. Every year they are either in the playoffs in the European Cup and they have won this tournament four times in a row. People talk about the All Blacks’ dominance at Test level or Barcelona in football. The reality is that Leinster are the benchmark for rugby at club level.
“Having been with this club for two years, I am just keen to see how we are going to be. I think we have surpassed everything we could have, winning as many trophies as we have. This is another great test to see whether or not we can live with the standards of the best side in Europe.”
This is not to say that the Bulls are going into the game short of any belief that they can upset the odds. White added that their performances in previous playoffs and against the likes of Munster and Ulster show that this Bulls team has the ability to win when it matters.
“We’ve got confidence. It’s not just because of the quarter-final against the Sharks. We have beaten them four times in playoffs: in the Rainbow Cup, URC and twice in the Currie Cup. We’ve managed to beat good sides like that in knockout games. That’s where we get our confidence from.
“There was a lot of talk before the quarter-final that we had lost twice against the Sharks, but knockout games are very different. One thing this group has done well is when there has been a knockout game, they have stepped up to the plate. All I can expect tomorrow is they do the same thing. It’s the biggest game we have had since we have been together as a group.”
What is your prediction?
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) June 9, 2022
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