Bulls make right call in switching focus to URC

Jake White received a lot of flak last week for his selections for the Champions Cup clash against Northampton. | EPA

Jake White received a lot of flak last week for his selections for the Champions Cup clash against Northampton. | EPA

Published Apr 16, 2024


Leighton Koopman

The Bulls and Jake White were well within their rights to save their top brass for the United Rugby Championship (URC) and spare them a tough travelling journey to England and back.

There’s been furore abroad about how White and his fellow decision-makers at Loftus Versfeld selected a second-string Bulls to compete in the quarter-finals against Northampton Saints and subsequently lost 59-22.

Jake White received a lot of flak last week for his selections for the Champions Cup clash against Northampton. | EPA

No one can fault the Bulls, though, if you look at the position they find themselves in in the URC and how important it will be over the next couple of weeks to keep winning in the competition with their best players available.

There are already reports of an injury crisis at Loftus with key players like Marco van Staden and Marcell Coetzee out. White was cagey when he was asked at the weekend if the injury crisis is worse than what is publicly available.

Even if this is the case, the Bulls did the right thing by leaving their stars at home.

They do not have the squad depth of a Leinster, Saints or Toulouse to be competitive in both competitions at the same time. And the travel factor with how matches are scheduled is another contentious issue.

The Bulls had a short turnaround between the Saints match and this weekend’s clash against defending champions Munster. They landed in South Africa yesterday, and they would’ve had three days of preparation, and one rest day, to get ready for a challenging encounter. The play-off could’ve been scheduled to at least give the South African side a full week before their next game.

Defending URC champions Munster will have been in the country for an entire week most likely and acclimatising to what Loftus Versfeld will throw at them on Saturday (kick-off 5.15 pm).

Sebastian de Klerk scored a try, later disallowed, against Northampton. | EPA

Last year they did the same playing the Stormers and eventually ended a 21-match unbeaten run of the Cape side, while foiling their plans to end in the top two of the log. The weekend before facing Munster, the Stormers had an away Champions Cup quarter-final against Exeter and had to travel back to face the Irish club who were fresh, ready, and waiting.

White learnt from the Stormers’ experience and was not going to jeopardise his team’s chances in the URC by having them play two tough matches back-to-back and risk a fallout. They are still in the fight to end amongst the top two in the URC. They haven’t won the tournament and fell short in the finals in the inaugural season and in the quarters last year.

This is their best chance to go to the final again as South Africa’s pacesetters, and having guys like outside backs Willie le Roux, Kurt-Lee Arendse, and Canan Moodie, loose forward Elrigh Louw, lock Ruan Nortje, and hooker Johan Grobbelaar back and fresh this weekend will give them that extra boost.

If they had risked and subsequently injured the above-mentioned players in England, it could’ve had a massive impact on the rest of their URC campaign. But now, they have a rested squad who will be eager to tackle the rest of their campaign and make a success of it.

Hopefully, soon, all the South African sides will have enough depth to be competitive in the knockouts of both European competitions. But until that day arrives, it will always be wise for the South African franchises to keep their players ready to push for top honours in the URC, which in turn will secure Champions Cup rugby.