Bulls coach Jake White: I’d probably make Glasgow favourites in URC final

Bulls captain Ruan Nortjé and Glasgow Warriors skipper Kyle Steyn will hope to lift the United Rugby Championship trophy after the final at Loftus Versfeld. Photo: INPHO

Bulls captain Ruan Nortjé and Glasgow Warriors skipper Kyle Steyn will hope to lift the United Rugby Championship trophy after the final at Loftus Versfeld. Photo: INPHO

Published Jun 22, 2024


Who would want to be the favourites in a final?

Normally the home side are backed by most pundits – and that is certainly the case with the Bulls in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship title decider against the Glasgow Warriors at Loftus Versfeld (6pm start).

Jake White’s team have only lost to last year’s champions Munster in Pretoria this season – even ending their Stormers hoodoo in March – and saw off Glasgow 40-34 on May 11 in a URC league match.

They are packed with Springboks and top-class youngsters such as Cameron Hanekom, and were bolstered by the return from injury of star wing Kurt-Lee Arendse from a fractured cheekbone on Friday.

They also scored the most tries (85) and most points (639), and second on the log with 66 points, behind Munster’s 68.

In addition, all general sales tickets were sold out by Friday, so a capacity 51 000 crowd is expected for the title decider.

But White wasn’t taking the favourites tag when offered it by a Scottish journalist on Friday after announcing his team for the final.

“We were favourites last week against Leinster as well – it’s something we’re getting used to now!” the former Springbok coach quipped.

“Favourites count for nothing. Last week people told me that Leinster should be underdogs, but I don’t get involved in that.

“Munster and Leinster are two incredible sides, and Glasgow and the Bulls beat them last weekend.

“The one thing about the URC that has been fantastic is that there has been no guarantee that just because you have certain players, or ranked higher or seen by the media as the favourites, that you should win the game.

“So, I’m not going to give you a headline that I said to you that we are the favourites, and there’s no chance that Glasgow can win.

“I’m fully aware of the fact that Glasgow played really well against Munster in Munster. Not many teams have beaten Munster, even anywhere.

“Last year, they won about nine in a row to win the competition. So, to go and do what Glasgow did last week, I’d probably make them favourites.”

Glasgow coach Franco Smith – the former Springbok utility back and Cheetahs mentor – is banking on the lessons from last season’s 43-19 Challenge Cup final defeat to Toulon to spur on his team at Loftus.

“Last year, we had the other final opportunity (Challenge Cup), and this is obviously the pinnacle of the season. So, we are really looking forward to being a part of it,” Smith said on Friday.

“Definitely lots of lessons learnt. From last year’s (URC) quarter-final against Munster at home, and then the final of the Challenge Cup last season, we put those learnings into our pre-season, and we took it through the whole season and applied it.

“We’ve learnt a lot from last week’s game (beating Munster 17-10 in the semi-final in Limerick). There were 20 000 Irish supporters at Thomond Park, and it could have been intimidating.

“But we’ve taken a lot from that in our preparation for this week. We know that we’ll face a pretty hostile crowd over here as well, and it’s just double the number from last week.

“It’s about focusing on the task at hand and not being engulfed by the occasion.

“I still believe that Loftus is the best place to play rugby. The ball travels a little bit further, the wind never blows, the temperature is always the same – and the crowd is always enthusiastic!

“So, definitely a proud moment, but also excellent to share it with the boys, who will take it on board for the rest of their careers.”

Such has been the interest that Glasgow captain Kyle Steyn – who is also a South African and played for Griquas previously – has been scrambling to find enough tickets.

“Our operations manager, and if it’s not my dad WhatsApping me, it’s him making sure that there are enough tickets,” he said.

“The requests keep coming in, and I’m not sure how many Franco’s got, but I’m over 35 tickets this time around!”

But White hopes the Bulls can be inspired by their supporters and the magnitude of the occasion, so that they can go one step further than in 2022, when they lost the final against the Stormers in Cape Town.

“Have you ever been to Loftus when it has been sold out? I’ve got a stat here that the last time it was sold out was when the Vodacom Bulls played the Brumbies in 2013, and I’m so chuffed because that’s the day I was coaching the Brumbies!” the Bulls boss said.

“We are looking forward to it. I said it to the boys the other day – who would’ve thought that, four years ago with Covid, that we’d ever be sitting again with a full house at Loftus?

“The final in Cape Town, it was still Covid and they could only have 35 000 people in the lower tiers. So, it’s got to be something that is unique.”