SA’s URC teams tripped up by balancing act

Competing in two top-tier European competitions has proven to be tougher than the four sides from the Republic first envisioned, according to GAVIN RICH.

The Vodacom Bulls booked a place in the top eight in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship with the DHL Stormers, while the Sharks did enough to be in pole position to remain in playoff contention after round 17 of the competition.

But the momentum swung against the South African teams as the Lions lost at home to Irish giants Leinster, while Munster snapped the Stormers’ 19-game home winning streak at Cape Town Stadium.

Mark Keohane said in his TimesLIVE column that SA’s maiden experience of the Champions and Challenge Cup in 2022-23 will benefit the local franchises and the Springboks in the long run, but writing for SuperSport, Rich argues that right now the squads are buckling under the pressure.

“Leinster coach Leo Cullen was forthright after his team lost to the Stormers in Cape Town last April. He congratulated the Stormers and said he welcomed the South African challenge in a competition his team had dominated, but added the cautionary note that it would be a lot harder once the likes of the Stormers had to balance the URC with the Champions Cup,” Rich writes.

“Cullen was the perfect person to talk. He’d come to South Africa with an under-strength team because his men were due to face a European quarter-final against Leicester Tigers upon their return home.

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“And it [SA teams playing in more competitions] is a much more difficult balancing act than that faced by Cullen. The European teams, except when they come to South Africa, don’t have to factor in the travel as much of a challenge as the South Africans do. For them, all venues are within a maximum of two hours flight away. Often they are just a train journey and can be done on the same day.

“Even in the game played in Johannesburg there were questions that could be asked that might have answers related to travel fatigue. It is after all later in the game that travel fatigue often hits, and while against Leinster you can never say you have the game won, and they proved that once more, it was the Lions who looked leaden footed at the very point you’d have expected the altitude to be their strongest ally.

Rich writes: “[Bulls director of rugby Jake White has] pointed to the fact that while the overseas clubs had a budget of around R180-million, his franchise only worked on a budget of R70m. And of course there are salary caps to be countenanced in South Africa that make it even more difficult to lure marquee players.

“The South African teams don’t have the financial clout to lure overseas players, and even if they did, there is red tape to get through here that would make an infusion of foreign talent far more difficult here than it is overseas.

“What the South African teams really need to do if they want to compete in both Europe and in the URC is to ensure that some of the 300 professional players from South Africa currently playing overseas come home, and that they don’t lose any more players to overseas clubs.”

Photo: @Springboks/Twitter

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