Bulls head coach Jake White says the Rainbow Cup final will be an excellent measure of where his team is before the new United Rugby Championship. DYLAN JACK reports.
In the same week that the Bulls travelled to Treviso to take on hosts Benetton in the final of the Rainbow Cup, the new ‘PRO Rugby’ competition, the URC, was confirmed.
The new tournament – involving the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions against the existing PRO14 teams – will take place across 18 rounds with each team’s fixtures comprising six home and away matches against their regional pool opponents, as well as 12 home or away fixtures against the remaining teams in the league.
While it has earned comparisons with the much-maligned Super Rugby tournament, there is an extra incentive of qualifying for the European Champions Cup that will undoubtedly prove a game changer for South African teams.
Speaking during a pre-final media conference on Friday, White said that the Rainbow Cup final is an opportunity for the Bulls to see where they are compared to their future northern opponents.
‘It’s not different to when we went into Super Rugby. People wanted to see how good we were against the southern-hemisphere teams in New Zealand and Australia,’ White explained. ‘Obviously, everyone watches the PRO14, Premiership and French Championship with interest. Now we are in that northern-hemisphere competition.
‘It’s going to be good to see how we measure ourselves, where we see ourselves in the competition. The URC is an opportunity to play in the Champions and Challenge Cup in the years to come. It would be wonderful to get our foot in the door. We are very lucky to be the first team to be here and experience first-hand what it is going to be like playing in the northern hemisphere in summer against a team that is at home.
‘They had this game as a neutral venue. Nobody expected Benetton to be here. But that’s another learning for us: playing a home team in a final. It’s great for us.’
This is not to say that White is taking anything for granted, as he correctly pointed out that Benetton were coming into the final unbeaten and had beaten Connacht – who themselves bagged the scalp of Munster – on their way to the final.
White also pointed out that former Bulls hooker Corniel Els is now an integral part of Benetton’s team and, having won the 2020 Currie Cup, would know the team’s structures and calls.
When asked whether there was a weight of expectation on the team, White was unambiguous with his answer.
‘There is a weight of expectation on the Bulls team every time we run out. When I took over, even before we played a game, every Bulls supporter expects us to do well. Tomorrow is no different. Maybe the only difference is perhaps that the whole of South Africa is hoping that the Bulls can pull this off. It would be good for South African rugby going into the Lions series.
‘The expectation is always there. That’s what makes us want to play well. We have fans that are incredibly fanatical about our team. They will expect us to win and that’s part of why we get motivated. We want to make sure we do well.’
Photo: INPHO/James Crombie